Edgar Allen Poe Edgar Allen Poe’s life problems had a profound impact on his various short stories and poems. Poe’s problems started seemingly right after birth. His biological father, David Poe, Jr., was an alcoholic and often abused Poe (Encyclopedia Americana, 274-275). Shortly after the age of two, Poe’s mother died. He only had memories of her vomiting and being carried away by sinister men dressed in black, as he put it (American Writers III).
There has been some speculation as to how this affected Poe. According to Marie Bonaparte, a student of Sigmund Freud, his mother’s death caused many mental disorders. Many agree that it warped him until the day he died. After his mother’s death, Poe was taken into the home of his godfather, John Allen, and his wife. It is believed that John continued to abuse Poe as his father did. At the age of seventeen, Poe attended the University of Virginia for a short time.
His godfather couldn’t afford all of the tuition fees, and Poe resorted to gambling as a means to earn money. From this he accumulated much debt and was forced to drop out of the university. He returned home, only to find that the girl he loved, Elmira Royster, had gotten married. He joined the army, but his godfather later purchased his release and helped him to enroll in West Point Military Academy. Again, Poe’s godfather could not cover the costs, so again, Poe resorted to gambling.
He acquired debts of over two thousand dollars, and was later expelled due to disciplinary problems. After this, Poe’s godfather disowned him, and Poe never attempted to pursue any further education. Poe began to publish many of his writings. Even though he did have some success, he still lived in poverty. When he was twenty-seven, Poe married his thirteen year old cousin, Virginia Clemm.
During his marriage, Poe had several extramarital affairs with various women (Paley). The biggest of Poe’s life problems was alcoholism, which resulted in his being fired from over twelve journalism jobs. When his wife died in 1847, Poe resorted even further to alcohol. I had never swallowed opium before. Laudanum and morphine I had occasionally used, and about them should have had no reason to hesitateI would take a very small dose in the first instance. I would repeat it until I should find an abatement of the fever.
This passage, from Poe’s short story, Life in Death, suggests Poe’s drug use. It is known that for medical purposes, Poe used the drug opium, which was, at the time, an over-the-counter drug. It is speculated that he may have developed an abuse problem. The opium caused some side effects, and Poe may have used alcohol to try and counteract them, and possibly took opium to counteract the effects of alcohol, such as the fever mentioned in the previous passage. It was extremely likely that Poe had various neurotic problems throughout life; neurotic instability was a trait that ran in his family (American Writers III).
Marie Bonaparte suggested that he suffered from an Oedipus complex, which typically results in neurotic disorders in adult life (American Writers III). Alcohol, and possibly drugs, helped Poe to escape from these neurotic problems, but often they just compounded them, and possibly caused others. After his wife’s death, Poe was diagnosed as having a brain lesion. This particular lesion was capable of producing symptoms of insanity, and may have been the result of Poe’s life traumas. It is suspected that Poe may have had sexual problems as well. He was believed to be impotent, and possibly a necrophiliac (Paley).
Poe’s tales were puzzling, mystifying, gruesome and ghastly. The characters of these tales stand out the most. Many were homicidal, and the murderers often tortured their victims and then killed them savagely. Dismemberment of bodies, along with mutilations and cannibalism were popular themes in many of his stories (Moskowitz). The characters seemed to have a natural thirst for torture. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame.
I took from my waistcoat pocket a penknife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity., he wrote in The Black Cat. Poe’s tales often emphasized the fear of death and engulfment by nothingness. Usually they took place at midnight or in the middle of a bad thunderstorm. Rotting corpses were a favorite of his tales, and distinct detail was given to their stench and look. In his story, The Facts of M. Valdemar’s Case, it says, his whole frame at once – within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk – crumbled – absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome – of detestable putrescence.
The question arises whether Poe’s various life problems had anything to do with his stories. It is probable that they had a profound effect on all of his writings. For instance, some of the characters in his stories used or were addicted to drugs and alcohol, just as Poe is believed to have been. Many characters were tortured and abused, as was Poe as a child. The fascination with corpses in his tales could have stemmed from Poe’s alleged necrophilia.
The stories he wrote seemed to actually be veiled confessions of his various problems. All of these problems had been building up in his mind, to the point where he had to release them into his stories and poems The people that were tortured in his stories could have been reflective of actual people in Poe’s life. I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my ownI suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence., he wrote in his story, The Black Cat. This suggests that he may have been violent with his wife.
In the tale, Eleonora, it tells of the narrator’s marriage to his mother’s sister, Eleonora, whom for fifteen years roamed I with Eleonora before love entered within our hearts. This could have been his first wife, Virginia. Since dismemberment, mutilation and cannibalism were common in his stories, could it be possible that Poe had a thirst for torture like his characters did? Perhaps because of his tormented life, Poe only had the ability to write in the dark, demented tone that has made his works so popular. Maybe that was merely what Poe enjoyed writing about, or was best at writing. Maybe he himself wanted his stories to be a puzzle, not unlike his life. That he can ever be categorized neatly biographically or artistically is not to be expected (qtd.
In Bloom). Only a person who experienced similar traumas can possibly fully understand the meaning of the tales of Edgar Allen Poe. English Essays.