The legacy of one of the most controversial figures in literature, Edgar Allan Poe, includes a variety of works, such as poems, stories, and novels. However, it is impossible to fully grasp their meaning without referring to the author’s personal story. The genius’s path was not easy, and his originality was partially the reflection of struggles on the way to fame (Whitehouse). This situation leads to the necessity to consider the author through the lens of the events, which shaped his personality, and the spirit of the age. Therefore, this paper aims to present the recurring themes in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, specific life circumstances, which affected his career, as well as the gothic elements incorporated in his stories.
Recurring Themes in Poe’s Works
The mysterious side of life was one of the most fascinating aspects attracting the attention of authors of the nineteenth century, and Edgar Allan Poe was no exception to the rule. From this perspective, his works represent the material constraints of the time figuratively interwoven into the narrative (Monnet). Meanwhile, the selection of themes by the author was defined by his interest in spiritualized scientific inquiry in contrast to humanity and people’s problems (Monnet). More specifically, such stories as “King Pest” depicting London during the Black Death epidemic were inspired by Poe’s experience with cholera (Monnet). This piece narrates about the challenges for humanity, whereas its actual focus is on the spiritual deformation of people.
Another recurring theme of Poe’s works was mental transformation complemented by the transcendence of matter. It is represented by such works as “Loss of Breath,” a satirical story about a man trying to find his lost breath while being assumed to be dead and treated accordingly (Monnet). In this piece, the author reflects on the concerns of people regarding common medical practices and highlights the importance of individuals as opposed to the community. In this way, the literary works of Poe add to the confrontation of good and evil, which are people and society, respectively, as well as the mystery of life and death.
Life Limitations and Events
The creative path of Edgar Allan Poe as an author was conditional upon his life circumstances, which shaped the preferences regarding themes and elements incorporated in his works. He was mostly described as “ambitious and poor,” and this image was supported by his descent and relations with others (Whitehouse). The early years of Poe’s career proved his disadvantaged position in contrast to more educated and wealthy poets and authors (Whitehouse). Complemented by the struggles with raising funds to publish his works, this factor became decisive on his way to recognition. Thus, the material constraints of Poe were his principal concerns and, therefore, realistically depicted in his stories and novels.
In turn, Poe’s rivalry with the most prominent authors of the time resulted in a row of conflicts and, subsequently, the former’s emphasis on the contrast between him and the others. One of such events was the situation with Poe’s opponent, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who he accused of plagiarism (Whitehouse). According to Poe, Longfellow imitated other poets instead of creating essentially new literary pieces (Whitehouse). However, as can be seen from the story of Poe, the alleged copying of others’ works was not the only reason for the conflict. Such authors as Longfellow, who had a more favorable position in the literary world due to their wealth and education, made him consider himself as a neglected genius (Whitehouse). This fact significantly affected Poe’s career, and he started to pay particular attention to the theme of rivalry, thereby adding bitterness to the stories. However, he managed to exceed the specified life limitations and become a famous author.
The works of Edgar Allan Poe are written in the Gothic tradition, and they incorporate the essential elements of the style. However, the peculiarity of his stories, poems, and novels is in the inclusion of both physical and mental manifestations of the genre. Thus, for example, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is considered to be one of the most Gothic pieces of the author (Fisher). In the novel, Poe uses such typical components as a haunted house, dreary landscape, and the mysterious sickness representing the physical aspect of terror (Fisher). However, the actual effects the readers perceive are the ones of the ambiguity of the piece and its unexpectedness (Fisher). In this way, it can be concluded that Poe not only belongs to the Gothic authors of the nineteenth century but also address both sides of the genre, which are mentality and environment.
To summarize, the genius of Edgar Allan Poe was shaped by the influence of the author’s life circumstances and perceptions. The inner conflicts stemming from the lack of wealth and proper education led to the continuous comparison with others and the understanding of his disadvantageous position in the literary world. However, these factors did not prevent Poe from becoming famous while enriching his works by the realistic depiction of material constraints and the contrasts between good and evil, life and death. As a result, the author can be viewed as one of the most prominent figures of the age and the representative of Gothic literature covering both physical and mental aspects of the genre.
Fisher, Benjamin F. “Introduction: Poe and the Gothic.” Gothic Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, 2010, Gale Literature Resource Center, Web.
Monnet, Agnieszka Soltysik. “Pictures of Ascent in the Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe.” Gothic Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010. Gale Literature Resource Center, Web.
Whitehouse, Anne. “Poe vs. Himself.” New England Review, vol. 39, no. 1, 2018. Gale Literature Resource Center, Web.