The Influences of Edgar Allan Poe

The Influences of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is one of America?s most influential writers. His stories and poems have touched the lives of countless people. His works, however, are influenced by his own life. The events of his life led him down the dark road of depression and morbidity.
Poe?s emotional health began deteriorating when he was very young. His mother died of tuberculosis while he was still a very small child. Poe never forget her vomiting blood and being carried away by sinister men dressed in black (Unger 409). Although Poe was never formally adopted, John and Frances Allan took Poe in (Vinson 970) The couple sent him to boarding schools where he excelled in both academics and athletics. This time of bliss was short lived, however. Poe began to feel more and more insecure and estranged from his school mates because of his lowly origin. Poe also began to be more antagonistic towards Mr. Allan due to his love for his foster mother?an almost oedipal relationship?and the fact that Mr. Allan was a very harsh dictator. After his lonely years in grade school, he was sent to the University of Virginia in 1826. He studied French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin, and maintained an excellent scholastic record. Poe ran into trouble when Allan did not send enough money to pay for fees
and other necessities.
He took to drinking and gambling, accumulating debts in excess of $2,000. Needless to say, he dropped out of college only to enlist in the army as a common solider under the name of Edgar A. Perry. He was stationed for a year on Sullivans Island in Charleston Harbor. Surprisingly, Poe adapted well to military discipline and quickly rose to the rank of regimental sergeant major, the highest non commissioned grade in the Army. While stationed on Sullivan?s Island, Poe published his first book Tamerlane and Other Poems in the summer of 1827. His book was not well received in the literary world. It gained little to no recognition, and what criticism he did receive was negative. Poe became tired of military life, and, with Allan?s help, was discharged from the army and sent to West Point Academy in1830. At West Point, Poe again found himself with inadequate funds. Poe had originally been a very good student, but after a letter to Allan, Poe decided to have himself expelled. In January of 1831, Poe was court-martialed for ?gross neglect of duties? (Unger 411). After trying a wide variety of schemes to support himself, he moved in with aunt in Baltimore. Since Poe had not gained status by writing poetry, he turned to short story writing (Regan N.P.) In 1836, Poe married his younger cousin, Virginia Clemm. This period was an intense production of stories for Poe. He wrote many stories and reviews as well as a drama in verse. In 1840, Poe published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, which was received very well by critics but sold rather slow. ?The Raven? was published in 1845 and became a
sensation overnight. Even though Poe pocketed only a few dollars from its production, the poem was printed and reprinted all over the country.
During these years, Poe had many dreams. These dreams turned into a reality. Most people assume that Poe got his ideas from opium and alcohol. However, this is not the case. Poe took his dreams and put them on paper. These became some of his best works. His nightmares became the stories that most people remember. He would spend night after night in complete terror and not really know how to deal with it. Finally, he wrote them down. Poe also gained insight and inspiration from the waking dreams?the moments when a person isn?t fully himself. The waking dreams are the times when the frontal consciousness goes into a sleep-like state and the subconscious is free to roam.
?From his subconscious, Poe evoked half-dreams of a unique significance. They opened him to a sublime universe, past whose borders his faculties could not go in their ordinary wide-awake operations. Not all of his creative insights came to him in this way, but it is to his experiences as a sleep-walker that we owe his vision of ethereal beauty?the vision that produced such poems as ?The Sleeper,? ?Israfel,? and ?Lenore?? (Buranelli 27).
Poe also drew upon the ideas of romanticism and a German idealism called Naturphilosphie. Poe used these two ideals to ?smash imaginatively the work day
world and then rebuild it just as imaginatively according to his own specifications.? Poe then took these ideals and formulated them into the words and philosophies which became ?Eureka.? ?Eureka? traces the evolution of the cosmos, describes its structure, and anticipates its fate at the end of time (Buranelli 28).
Dreams, however, were not the only factor contributing to Poe?s writings. Poe drew mainly on his own personal experiences. As mentioned above, Poe?s foster father, Mr. Allan, was a harsh dictator. Other men used to laugh and make fun of him. Poe never got over his paternal father abandoning him as a small child. He always resented and hated the man for putting his mother through so much pain. Poe hated his foster father in much the same way. Most of the men in Poe?s life abandoned him at one time or another, which eventually led to a growing hatred. Poe tried not to be like other men; he tried to be loving and caring. He tried not to be like other men because he hated them so much. In his writings, Poe tries to make men look bad. The reader can see in his writings that men are usually doing something to an object or someone else. Two examples include, the cat in ?Black Cat? is being treated unjustly by the man in the story, and Usher?s attempted murder of his sister in ?The Fall of the House of Usher?. The women in Poe?s life also seem to ?abandon? him. Each of the women that Poe was closed to died, usually of tuberculosis. This wrecked havoc on Poe?s emotional state and pushed him to the brink of the ?twisted kingdom,? or insanity. The death?s influenced his writing, which is seen in nearly every poem or short story. His writings are usually grotesque and
have an obsession with death. In many cases, the deaths in his stories have obscure circumstances surrounding them. Poe?s chronic alcohol abuse is also reflected in his writings, but not as one would think. Many people think that Poe?s hallucinations and deranged thinking lead to some of his best works. If the reader takes a good look at his writings, he can see that it?s the alcoholism itself that is represented. The descriptions drunken men in ?The Man of the Crowd? come to show Poe as he saw himself. They staggered and stumbled to the gin houses ?in shreds and patches, reeling, inarticulate, with bruised visage and lack-luster eyes? (Poe 477). Poe is describing himself as he looks whenever he is commonly drug out of the gutters. In ?Black Cat?, the main character is an alcoholic who exclaims ?for what disease is like Alcohol? (Poe 224). In a drunken stupor, the man gouges out the cat?s eye because he thought it was avoiding him. In ?The Cask of Amontillado?, Fortunato is lured to his death by the drug. Poe rarely uses alcohol in anything positive. The drug is usually used in association to destruction and anger. He retaliates against the drug and attacks it in his writings. His characters show his inability to enjoy the drug and his seeing it as an instrument of destruction.
Poe died in 1849, but his memory did not die with him. His life influences influenced his writings which, in turn, influenced the lives of others. Through his pain and anguish, others have learned to appreciate the darker side of literature. Poe?s works often show us how fine a line there is between sanity and madness.

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