Here is something to ponder: Edgar Allan Poe once expressed, "Dream dreams that no one has ever dreamed before" (Poe, The Raven). Even if a person is only a little familiar with the life of this prolific writer, he can immediately identify some irony in the former quotation. It is very ironic in the sense that a man who suffered such incredible losses in his life was still able to pursue his dreams. Edgar Allan Poe came from a life of poverty, but is now considered one of America's most prolific writers. Indeed, the reality that Poe came from nothing makes his achievements, as both a writer and a person, even more awe-inspiring. Therefore, Poe is certainly right about his wise saying, as it reflects the story of his life. Perhaps he was so successful because he wrote about his own life and both his physical and mental experiences. All of the unfortunate events in his life serve as the framework for many of his famous pieces, including Annabel Lee, The Raven, and The Fall of the House of Usher. In fact, many of his themes delve into the things Poe experienced in his life, particularly death. The life of Edgar Allan Poe is characterized by various unfortunate events, which influence the themes of his writing: love, lust, and death.
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Knowing the life of Edgar Allan Poe is significant because it impacts his writing tremendously. Specifically, in his poem "Annabel Lee," there are obvious parallels between Poe's life and the major themes. One of Poe's best-known poems, "Annabel Lee" was composed shortly before his death. In its entirety, the poem includes various themes and gothic elements that can be related to Poe's life. Most are very obvious, however, a few require some thought and analyzing.
The first and most prominent is the presence of a deceased or dying woman. This is no surprise as all the women in Poe's life died from tuberculosis. In "Annabel lee," the title character happens to be the deceased woman. "It is unclear to whom Poe addressed "Annabel Lee" as his mother, adoptive mother, and wife were all candidates (Peltak 91). Many believe the deceased character represents "all the women he loved and lost" (Peltak 91). Regardless of who she personifies, she is idealized as a youthful, beautiful lady. There is also a relation between decaying beauty and the physical signs of tuberculosis. "The physical signs of tuberculosis include pale, luminous skin and red cheeks" which corresponds to the victim in "Annabel Lee" as her beauty faded away (Peltak 15). Perhaps Poe is successful at raising the dead "so believably because it was such a constant fact of his life" (Peltak 15).
Another aspect of Poe's poetry that reflects his personal life is the element of the grieving man. Poe was left grief stricken after the death of his mother, adoptive mother, and wife. The feeling Poe experienced is similar to the torture and grief the man in "Annabel Lee" exhibits. In this circumstance, the speaker is a surviving husband or lover. The narrator laments his lost love, his beautiful "Annabel Lee." The plot twist at the end of the poem is that the narrator ends up in the "sepulcher by the sea." Such an action can be a sign of the narrator's true love. The narrator almost seems obsessed with the love the two shared, which is analogous to his relationship with Virginia. A prominent theme is "the love of beauty and the mourning of its passing into death" (Otfinoski 6). The repetition of the name "Annabel Lee" proves how much this woman meant to the grieving man. Poe truly wants the reader to experience the same pain he felt after losing the loves of his life.
The insanity of the narrator impacts the poem immensely. The narrator thinks Annabel Lee was taken away because people were envious. He believed her death was supernatural rather than an illness. After the death of Annabel Lee, the narrator is left in solitude, and thus becomes insane. Edgar Allan Poe was left in complete solitude various times in his life since he was abandoned by both father figures and all the women he loved died. Poe was also known as a depressed and morbid man, especially during the last few years of his life.
The gothic themes of perversion, death, and insanity all reflect the pain in his life. More importantly, they contain a meaning throughout the work itself. Insanity is present as the narrator experiences a destruction of his mind, body, and soul. The plot is "twisted" because the reader discovers that the narrator may be in the tomb with Annabel Lee at the end of the poem. Death is important to the narrator as he ponders what happens before, during, and after passing away. All of the former themes have an underlying meaning that is related to Poe's life. He experienced perversion, death, and insanity in his life and making them all of the major themes of his works is the way he conveys himself.
Poe's best known poem, The Raven, was published in 1845 and certainly made Poe famous. The poem became so famous that "people referred to Poe as 'the raven'" (Oakes 3). Similar to Annabel Lee, specific themes in The Raven correlate to Poe's personal life. Some important themes to make note of include insanity, death, loneliness, and the element of supernatural. Each theme is relevant to Poe's life in at least one perspective.
The most obvious theme is the longing over a lost loved one. Specifically, the talking raven reminds the narrator about his dead love, Lenore. Although Poe mourned the deaths of various women in his life, many critics believe this poem was written for his wife, Virginia. When The Raven was published, "Virginia had been wasting away from tuberculosis for three years" (Peltak 13). It is strongly believed that The Raven was written "in portrayal of the tragedy that existed for the two lovers" (Oakes 2). "Nevermore" is the raven's repetitive message that "is instantly recognizable even outside the context of the poem" (Peltak 12). "The effective repetition of this phrase gives the poem a dramatic intensity that carries the story and the reader to an ultimate realization" (Otfinoski 5). The narrator, who is the mourning husband, finally "realizes that his soul will 'Nevermore' be freed from the shadow of his former love" (Whiting 36). It is very possible the intensity and intricacy was intended as a means to represent Poe's complex life, especially regarding women. He lost one loved woman after another, and mourned each death more than the other. The repetition of the demonic message, "Nevermore" emphasizes Poe will no longer be reunited with his deceased mother, adoptive mother, and wife. Poe is extremely talented in his ability to intensify his prose and "give his audience an alluring mix of accessibility and mystery" (Peltak 12). Critics are convinced that it is a mystery and increase of anxiety that allows The Raven to resonate generation after generation. Yet, "despite the element of horror and fantasy, The Raven is ultimately a Poem about remembering" (Peltak 13).
The steady reply of 'Nevermore' haunts the narrator, who is unable to reconcile the loss of Lenore," and thus loses insanity (Peltak 13). The husband serves as a grieving man who goes insane by the end of the poem. The raven refuses to leave the door of the library, just like the pain from Lenore's death will never fade. A few parallels between Poe's life and literature can immediately be recognized. The grief-stricken narrator resembles Poe because both men will never be relieved from the death of a loved one. "The maddened narrator reveals that the raven remains in the library and that he can never be free of its torment," just like Poe will never be free of the torment of his grief (Peltak 12). It is also clear that Poe correlates the death of a loved woman to the loss of beauty because Lenore is "idealized as youthful, beautiful, and perfect" (Peltak 16). This also implies the beauty he saw in the women he lost, which possibly sparked more despair. Poe stresses the concept of "beauty" like no other writer. Since Poe views beauty as perfection, and it is impossible to attain perfection, it is essentially impractical to maintain beauty. This statement is feasible because Poe lost all beauty in his life; nor was there anything "beautiful" about his life. The loss of beauty only deepens the torture the grieving narrator experiences. Poe's emphasis on Lenore's beauty greatly affects her husband and drives him insane.
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The themes of death, loneliness, and insanity are not only evident in The Raven, but also in Poe's life. The supernatural element is the talking raven. Poe definitely believed in the supernatural because he thinks death is somewhat supernatural. For instance, in Annabel Lee, the narrator believed Annabel's death was utterly supernatural. Because both Poe and the characters of his stories believed in the supernatural, they were often seen as insane. In The Raven, the narrator's madness is sparked by the raven's taunting; he is convinced the raven will never leave. The financial anguish and Virginia's death "drove Poe to depression and self-destructive drinking" (Peltak 37). Poe's downfall is very similar to the destruction of the narrator's mind, body, and soul. The narrator becomes depressed because he will 'Nevermore' see his love again, thus his breakdown begins. He is lonely after the death of his wife, which is analogous to Poe's loneliness after Virginia's death. After her death it was nearly impossible for Poe to find stable love and support.
Like Annabel Lee and The Raven, the recurrent themes of death, perversion, and destruction of the mind, body, and soul are only a few of the numerous themes found throughout The Fall of the House of Usher. When first studying The Fall of the House of Usher, the reader will immediately note that Roderick Usher is mentally sick. Because of his mental illness, Roderick represents the mind, which evidently reflects the mental conflict Poe suffered in his life. Between his depression and the addictions, it is fair to say that Poe's life gad been mentally rough. Roderick Usher characterizes all of Poe's mental battles. Poe was certainly, "attracted to ghost stories and the supernatural" (Otfinoski 4). It is no wonder why he is fascinated by horror stories since his life was similar to one. Both are full of death and madness.
Since the male represents the mind, it is logical that the female signifies the body. Roderick's sister Madeline is physically sick. Madeline's illness essentially reflects the illness the women in Poe's life had. The tortured or grieving man, dying or deceased woman, a supernatural element, a creepy or gloomy setting and various symbols and omens are all easily recognizable in The Fall of the House of Usher. The crumbling house with a crack provides the gloomy and creepy setting in The Fall of the House of Usher. It would be unreasonable to expect a man who has experienced a great amount of death and loneliness in his life to write about cheerful subjects.
Madeline, the body, needs Roderick, the mind, to die. Both represent to halves of the whole which indicates an incestuous relationship. Edgar's relationship with Virginia was indeed incestuous, since they were cousins. After Madeline and Roderick die, the house, representing the soul, splits and falls. Since Poe experienced all the elements within his story, it was probably relatively simple for him to include such great detail and intensity. It happens to be "this personal intensity, more than any other literary characteristic, that makes Poe's best tales so haunting and unforgettable" (Otfinoski 4).
In Poe's literature, "the same terrible themes occur in story after story" (Otfinoski 4). Every theme and element is relevant and related. The enigmatic quality of the strange is evident in the gloomy setting and perverted plot twist. Madeline was alive all along, and eventually kills her brother causing the house to fall. There were many strange aspects of Poe's life, particularly the fact that the three women he loved the most died of the same disease. The destruction of the mind, body, and soul exemplified through the downfall of Roderick, Madeline, and the crumpling house. The collapse of Poe and the people in his life can be easily seen through this ambiguous symbolism. Just like the rest of Poe's literature, there is insanity, which is mostly epitomized by Roderick.
It would take an infinite amount of pages to explain every correlation between Poe's life and Annabel Lee, The Raven, and The Fall of the House of Usher. However, it is most essential to recognize that he expresses his emotions through the imperative themes of his literature. Every poem and story contains relatively the same elements: a grieving man, deceased women, the supernatural, insanity, love, and of course, death. The redundancy of these themes indicates the importance of these elements, and also how much they impacted Poe's life. The tortured and grieving man concurs with Poe's loneliness all throughout his lifetime. The deceased or dying women symbolizes the writer's mother, adoptive mother, or wife who left him alone after death. Poe's feelings toward love and death are very unique and are shaped by the events in his life. Poe loved all three women and venerated their beauty, even after they died. There is always a character that goes insane in Poe's literature, which acts as a reflection of Poe himself. Poe is a literary genius because he is successful at turning the unfortunate troubles of his life into the major themes of his stories. Life threw him terrible situation, but with them he created literature, both brilliant and expressive.
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