16 March 2012
Edgar Allan Poe’s Obsession with Death
Through Edgar Allan Poe’s many works, it can be seen that he has an obsession with death. Many of his stories revolve around the idea of death being linked to a different emotion, such as love and fear. In “Ligeia” love and death are linked to the narrator’s life with the title character. “The Premature Burial” links death to fear, as does “The Fall of the House of Usher”. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” Poe attaches death to desire and the senses. While in “The Masque of Red Death” he shows death as something undefeatable. Poe constantly refers to death and it is an overbearing theme in many of his works. Poe’s obsession is never ending and casts a shadow on many of his pieces. “The Masque of Red Death”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “Ligeia”, “The Premature Burial”, and “The Fall of the House of Usher” all demonstrate Edgar Allan Poe’s clear obsession with the topic of death.
“The Masque of Red Death” by Poe links death to something tangible, time. This link can be seen through the ebony clock that is mentioned multiple times throughout the story. Everything that happens in the palace revolves around the clock. When the party is going on, and the clock goes off “all is silent save the voice of the clock” (Poe, “The Masque of Red Death”). The personification of the Red Death also ends up standing underneath the clock, and “Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” (Poe, “The Masque of Red Death”). This shows that even with death, time will go on, and it always will. Poe’s obsession can be seen through his lengthy description of the gruesomely masked “man”. Poe focuses on the man’s death like look, and not the party goers’ emotions looking at a terrifying sight. Through “The Masque of Red Death” Poe conveys his dismal view of death, and its inevitability, as well as his obsession. While Poe links death to the tangible time in this story, in “The Tell-Tale Heart” he links it to more sensatory details.
Poe plays into the narrators senses in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. There are no overly lengthy descriptions things in this piece of his work, as opposed to many other pieces. This stripped detail adds to the heightened senses of narrator. The unnamed narrator has an obsession with death just as Poe does. The narrator does not see this obsession as madness but that the old man’s death as something that is necessary. The narrator’s extreme obsession can be seen after the old man’s death, when the police come. While he is talking to the police, he says that he “placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim” (Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”). While sitting with the police, the narrator starts to hear the old man’s heart beating beneath him, driving him to madness. Poe was making a statement about death coming back to haunt one, and becoming an obsession. This extreme sensory overload for the narrator is an example of Poe’s obsession with death. The extreme senses of the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” lead him to have extreme emotions, just like the narrator in “Ligeia” has.
“Ligeia” is about love and death, and the inherent link between them. The narrator, who remains unnamed, has an obsessional love for his late wife Ligeia. Even though he cannot remember how he met her, how they started their romance, and he does not recall her last name, he is sure to make a point of having loved her with his whole heart. His love for Ligeia is shown through his ability to recollect every detail of her, and her beauty. While she has since died, the narrator admits that her name would “bring before mine eyes in fancy the image of her who is no more” (Poe, “Ligeia”). After his wife dies, the narrator moves to England, and meets another woman, Rowena. Rowena is the opposite of Ligeia; she has fair hair and eyes, while Ligeia had raven colored hair, and black eyes, showing his intent on moving on from Ligeia. Though he marries Rowena, the narrator does not feel love for her, and she dies just a few months into the marriage, and while the narrator is lying next to her after her death, she comes back to life. Though it is not Rowena, it is Ligeia. This narrator was just as obsessed with death as Poe was. Poe was showing the connection between death and love. This connection is strong, and through this story’s supernatural elements, it seems as if love can bring a loved one back. Poe linked the strong emotion of love with death, because of his obsession, and the fact that they seemingly go hand in hand. While in “Ligeia” Poe showed his obsession with death through the pleasant emotion of love, in “The Fall of the House of Usher”, he shows it through a not as pleasant emotion, fear.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” revolves completely around fear, mainly in the form of claustrophobia. Poe describes the fear as “an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart” (Poe, “House of Usher”). Everything in this story is linked to the ‘House of Usher’ which refers to both the family, and the actual mansion. As described by the narrator, “the entire family lay in the direct line of descent…” (Poe, “House of Usher”). The family’s remaining members are the narrator’s friend Roderick, and his twin sister, whom the narrator did not know existed, Madeline. Madeline seemingly dies, and both Roderick and the narrator bury her in the family crypt. Though, Madeline was not actually dead, and so they buried her alive, which was a fear expressed throughout the story. As the ‘House of Usher’ crumbles when Roderick and Madeline both die, the actual House of Usher crumbles as well. Poe’s obsession can be seen through the fear of being buried alive, and the focus the family’s demise. The fear of being buried alive, and the emotion of fear associated with death in “The Fall of the House of Usher” carries on into “The Premature Burial”.
“The Premature Burial” revolves around the fear that many people had of being buried alive. With what seem like true stories at the beginning, add to the eerie feeling of the story. Poe describes being buried alive as “the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere morality” (Poe, “The Premature Burial) and “painful, intense, and widely-extended excitement” (Poe, “The Premature Burial”). These seemingly real accounts show Poe’s obsession with death, because he would have had to put a lot of thought in to how being buried alive would have happened. Also, Poe would have had to think about the feelings that one would have while being buried alive. The entire story is that of being buried alive, and the feelings that one would have while it was happening, show the obsession Poe had with death, and dying.
Poe also puts the difference between life and death in “The Premature Burial”. The difference is seen to be very small, “boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague” (Poe, “The Premature Burial). Poe not seeing the difference between life and death shows his true obsession, and how he feels about humans sometimes being truly dead inside. Poe talks about the parts of Hell and how horrible it could be. Along with writing about the similarities between life and death, Poe draws similarities between the living world, and Hell, “even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell…” (Poe, “The Premature Burial”). Poe’s comparisons between this world, and Hell, show his obsession with death, through his ability to draw parallels between both worlds.
Through these works by Edgar Allan Poe, his obsession with death is apparent. He attaches death with emotions and palpable things. He also draws conclusions between the real world, and Hell. There are examples in multiple stories show how much time and thought Poe put into the feelings and emotions of death. Poe’s obsession came through in his writing, putting that obsession in to many of his narrators. Death reaches into fear and the senses making it a very real and scary thing. Poe’s obsession with death reaches to every part of it. It reaches to how it could happen and what could happen after one dies. Poe’s obsession with death reaches to all parts of his writing, and makes his writing better.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Fall of the House of Usher." Poestories.com. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <http://poestories.com/read/houseofusher>
Poe, Edgar Allen. “Ligeia.” Poestories.com. Web. 12 March. 2012. <http://poestories.com/read/ligeia>
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Masque of the Red Death." Poestories.com. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <http://poestories.com/read/masque>
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Premature Burial." Poestories.com. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <http://poestories.com/read/premature>
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Tell-Tale Heart." Poestories.com. Web. 112 Mar. 2012. <http://poestories.com/read/telltaleheart>