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Poe And Burial Motifs Essay, Research Paper

Poe is a very complicated author. His literary works are perplexed, disturbing,

and even grotesque. His frequent illnesses may have provoked his engrossment in

such things. In 1842 Dr. John W. Francis diagnosed Poe with sympathetic heart

trouble as well as brain congestion. He also noted Poe’s inability to withstand

stimulants such as drugs and alcohol (Phillips 1508). These factors may have

motivated him to write The Tell-Tale-Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The

Black Cat. All of these stories are written in or around 1843, shortly after Poe

became afflicted. His writing helped him to cope with his troubles and explore

new territory in literature. Poe’s interest in the supernatural, retribution,

and perverse cause them to be included in his burial motifs; therefore

sustaining his interest. There is a common thread laced through each subject,

but there is variation in degrees of the impact. The supernatural is the

phenomena of the unexplained. With this comes an aura of mystery and arousal of

fear. Death in itself is the supreme mystery. No living human being can be

certain of what happens to the soul when one dies. It is because of this

uncertainty that death is feared by many. These types of perplexing questions

cause a reader to come to a point of indifference within one of Poe’s burial

motifs. One is uncertain of how the events can unfold, because a greater force

dictates them. Reincarnation in The Black Cat is a supernatural force at work.

There is some sort of orthodox witchcraft-taking place. The whole story revolves

around the cat, Pluto, coming back to avenge its death. One can not be sure how

Pluto’s rebirth takes place, but it is certain that something of a greater force

has taken hold. The cat’s appearance is altered when the narrator comes across

it the second time. There is a white spot on the chest "by slow degrees,

degrees nearly imperceptible?it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinct

outline?of the GALLOWS" (Poe 4). Foretelling the narrator’s fate a

confinement tool appears on the cat’s chest. This also foreshadows the cat’s

confinement in the tomb. It reappears like a disease to take vengeance on a man

that has committed horrid crimes. "I was answered by a voice within the

tomb! –By a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and

quickly swelling into one long, loud and continuous scream, utterly anomalous

and inhuman–a howl–a wailing shriek, half of honor and half of triumph (Poe

6). Pluto is like Poe’s reoccurring illness it keeps coming back just when he

thinks it is gone. This can be related to the ever-looming question of why

people become afflicted with disease. Is it punishment for wrongdoing? Some

religions find this to be the answer. Poe’s intrigue in reincarnation may have

been in that of his own immortality. Metaphysical events take place in The

Tell-Tale-Heart. The perpetrator is driven by some unknown source to reveal his

evil deed. The paranoia he feels is very real to him. "I fancied a ringing

in my ears?[it] became more distinct?I found that the noise was not within

my ears?It is the beating of the hideous heart [of the old man]" (Poe 3).

Ringing is heard only in the man’s head, but because a impetus has compelled him

to believe otherwise he is inclined to reveal his misdeed. The source of the

man’s "voices" is from a force within himself. One’s soul is an

unexplainable power, which governs over the body. The murder of the old man is

committed in passion. Disregarding any rational thoughts the narrator is engaged

in his own desires. His unconcern for mankind causes his own insanity. Even he

can not live with his actions. The mind as a supernatural force, that dictates

life, can only cope with so much. Poe himself experiences hallucinations from

his illness, and abuse of alcohol. Years of defilement caused his body, and mind

to break down. At one point in time Poe raved "?for protection from an

imaginary army of conspirators disguised as ‘loungers’" (Mankowitz 232).

Constant weight on ones mind can lead to insanity. Human beings can lose control

of their lives. The Tell-Tale-Heart illustrates the human spirit as a mysterious

and unexplainable force. Poe’s life was full of turmoil, which inevitably caused

his madness. The enveloping force of evil drives Montressor to commit murder in

The Cask of Amontillado. If supernatural is used in its broadest sense to mean

"unexplained" then the force that impels Montressor’s lack of humanity

is indeed supernatural. Evil, as a uninhibited force propels the callous, vile

act. When evil is introduced as a possible catalyst one can, at least in some

sense, comprehend what drives Montressor’s act of revenge. With out this force

revenge is less likely to be taken to the extremes in this story. Fortunato, the

unsuspecting victim, is blindly led to his death via a premeditated plan.

Montressor guides him on the journey, patronizing him all the way. The torture

that is put upon him is horrendous. He is entombed alive, and left to die. The

mind can be a torturous device when all hope is stripped away. Fortunado must

wait for death, all the while reliving his regrets. Montressor states "?a

brief moment I hesitate–I trembled?But the thought of an instant reassured

me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt

satisfied" (Poe 8). For an instant his humanity is unveiled, but quickly

covered again. He has no problem leaving his victim in the catacombs to die. Poe

does an excellent job creating a character of evil. Many of his literary works

deal with the origin of evil. Montressor’s need for revenge causes him to give

himself to the dark side. Perversity is a theme that exists within the three

stories at hand. When one takes pleasure in something that is knowingly wrong it

is perverse. It exhibits a blatant lack of humanity. Delectation in the

grotesque is also sinful. Committing or witnessing acts of mutilation or murder

is depraved. Someone has to be out of balance to seriously consider such

ignominious acts. Poe uses perversity to shock, and disgust the reader. Reading

about such atrocities brings the reader to a different level of cognition. One

sees into the mind of a character that is distorted, and gets a direct show of

what is motivating him or her. The main character in The Black Cat kills his

wife without any compunction. After he "?buried the axe in her

brain," his only apprehension is of how to conceal the crime (Poe 3). He

states "many projects entered my mind," attesting to his search for

the perfect burial place. The man commits a bloody, brutal murder of a loved

one, but is only concerned with himself. Delight is actually taken in the death,

because he is able to get a good night sleep. "The guilt of my dark deed

disturbed me but little;" he has no regrets and nothing to fret about.

Pleasure is obtained from the death, not the act, but the rewards of it. Hiding

the body in the false chimney illustrates his lack of respect for his wife. He

is pleased with himself for finding such a clever hiding place, but she is not

attributed a proper burial. Perversity embodies this man. He is disturbed.

Montressor, in The Cask of Amontillado, is a pervert. He enjoys watching

Fortunato suffer. Pleasure seeps from his spirit when Fortunato exclaims

"Ha! ha! ha!–he! he!–a very good joke indeed–an excellent jest. We will

have many a rich laugh about it?Let us be gone" (Poe 7). The man is using

his last fragment of hope, but Montressor plays with him. He likes to hear the

suffering in the voice of his victim. He gets off on causing pain. Replying to

Fortunato’s plea he mimics "Yes, let us be gone," with contempt in his

voice (Poe 7). Montressor has broken another man’s spirit, and taken away his

life. This makes him happy, because he has upheld a troublesome family motto

"Nemo me impune lacessit" ("No one assails me with

impunity") (Poe 4). A twisted outdated motto causes the death of Fortunato.

The burying of a live body conjures up images of desperation and hopelessness of

the victim. Montrtessor has all of the power. He picks the time and place where

Fortunato will meet his end. Obvious disregard of life is maniacal. The

perpetrator in The Tell-Tale-Heart states clearly that he enjoys the act of

killing. "In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy

bed over him, I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far gone" (Poe2).

This sick individual not only kills the old man, but he "?dismembers the

corpse. [He] cut off the head and the arms and the legs" (Poe 2). He seems

to take pride in his clever cover up of the annihilation bragging "There

was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood spot whatever. I had

been too wary for that. A tub had caught all -ha! ha!" (Poe 3). This man is

a true sociopath, and psychotic. Any act one can imagine being grotesque he has

committed. This is a person who is not in his right mind. His acts are shocking

and almost unbelievable, but not quite. There are deranged people who commit

vile, meaningless acts of violence just because. The scariest part about this

perversity is that it does happen, people can be this repugnant. The ultimate

payback for wrongdoing is retribution. It is a means by which one releases

anger. When revenge is taken, the outcome is satisfaction. Power is definitely

associated with it. The need to be the dominating figure in a relationship fuels

the desire. Sometimes retribution is directed at personage who has little to do

with what is being avenged. The person may be representative of a greater cause.

He or she is just an outlet for abuse. It feels good to get even with someone,

even if it is not the source of the problem. Poe has many problems that he can

not fix. This angers him. He does not understand why he is afflicted with so

much grief. The Black Cat is a story that revolves around revenge. It is a more

complex then first observed. The man is not lashing out at his animals because

they have done something to offend him. The abuse is given because the animals

can not fight back. They are defenseless against the brute force. He is really

angry at society, but can not tap the proper channels to vent his rage. "I

grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of

others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my At length, I even

offered?personal violence" (Poe 1). He has grown cold throughout the

years losing the lust for life he once had. He needs to seek refuge from the

outside world. "?My disease grew upon me-for what disease is like Alcohol

(Poe 1). Alcohol gives him a place to hide and, contributes to his lunacy. Under

the influence he becomes a monster. Poe himself "uses alcohol as an

anesthetic to ease other problems, both physical and emotional" (Mankowitz

236). He feels isolated from society parallel to the nameless man in this story.

Deliberately sinning allows the man to feel power. He is in control of his

actions. I "?hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I

knew that in so doing I was committing a sin?" (Poe 2). Challenging a

system of beliefs questions its existence. He is almost daring a higher power to

punish him. This will let him know if there is something to believe in. He is a

lost soul among many that is yearning for something to believe in. Poe is facing

death, because of all of the pain he has gone through he too questions God. How

could God let him suffer, and take his life so soon? He can not answer this, but

his stories do scream the question. Retribution against death is a focus in The

Tell-Tale-Heart. The old man is symbolic of death. "He had the eye of a

vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my

blood ran cold (Poe 1). The vulture is a bird that only preys upon the dead.

Blood running cold is associated with a corpse; therefore, death. His words

prove that the eye is expiration looking him in the face. "He was still

sitting up in bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night,

hearkening to death watches on the wall" (Poe 1). Killing the old man is

retribution for fear of death. He is a constant reminder of the perpetrator’s

greatest fear. Wondering when cessation is going to occur can drive a man

insane. "His eye would trouble me no more," illustrates that the man

has defeated death (Poe 2). This is ironic because death will always triumph in

the end. The killing may give the man temporary solace from his fear, but it can

not last. Poe’s illness causes him to constantly deal with the coming of his

end. He too wishes there were something he can do to ward it off. Obviously this

is not possible. The Cask of Amontillado revels in revenge based on upholding

one’s family motto. Fortunato disrespected Montressor, "the thousand

injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but he?ventured upon

insult?" (Poe 1). Montressor is an extremely proud man. He takes the

comments to heart, and is disturbed by them. His need for revenge is innate. The

need is genetic, based on the family motto, which states "No one assails me

with impunity". He is compelled to commit murder to honor his family name.

Montressor must seek his resolution very mechanically. "A wrong is

unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed

when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the

wrong" (Poe 1). Fortunado must not know that he is seeking revenge, but

when the plot is revealed it is imperative that he takes credit for the act.

Montressor’s act of murder is calculated; thus, chillingly horrifying. The

organization insures that Fortunado is doomed. Poe’s interest in burial motifs

allows him to explore the same themes, but using different premises. Poe’s free

and out of the ordinary style is very successful in incorporating the

supernatural, perverse, and retribution into his work. He maintains his interest

as well as the reader’s by including subjects that are not prevalent. It is

shocking, disturbing, and challenging to read. Some of Poe’s literature has

obvious relations to his own life, and how he coped with the problems that faced

him. Having problems in ones life can escalate the soul to accomplish great

things. Poe’s lifestyle is very much a part of style.

Mankowitz, Wolf. The Extraordinary Mr. Poe and his Times. New York: Summit

Books, 1978. Phillips, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe-The Man, Volume II. Chicago, IL:

The John C. Winston Co, 1912. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Black Cat. Online. Personal

Computer. Simpatico. Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.gothic.net/poe/works/black_cat.txt

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado. Online. Personal Computer. Simpatico.

Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.literature.org/Works/Edgar-Allan-Poe/amontillado.html

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale-Heart. Online. Personal Computer. Simpatico.

Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.gothic.net/poe/works/tell-tale_heart.txt


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