The famous American short story writer, Edgar Allan Poe, even though he was not much appreciated in his contemporary times, created some unique piece of works that can be considered as the inspiration to the Modernist writers. However, there have been several unkind criticisms about Poe’s work. Many considered his works to be complicated, multifaceted and varied. Before we look into Poe’s work in the context of proto modernism and modernism, it is important to understand the concept of modernism (Walker, Ian, pg: 112). Modernism started as a movement in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century that called for the ‘freedom of conscience’ in the light of the psychological, philosophical and historical hypothesises. It is a timeless concept. However, in this essay, while discussing Poe’s work, his reputation as the proto modernist figure will be analyzed as he had foresaw the materialization of this movement in his early days.
Edgar Allen Poe was the first American short story writer who has made the philosophical and psychological theories remarkably significant in the European countries. He was entirely dissatisfied with the conventional literary standards and norms and tried to establish his own theories in his literary works. Poe has put the ‘avant-grade’ theories of the originality into practice in his works. However, in his contemporary times and even after his death he was not at all appreciated because of his works as most of the critics and writers were more concerned about the independence of the traditional Native American culture and the glorification of it (Hammond, John R, pg: 212). With the course of time, the ‘avant grade’ sense of the originality and the anti conventional method that have been advocated in Poe’s creative theories and reflected in his literary works. This has enhanced the way of the modern writers who had taken inspiration from Poe’s works.
Living in the era where the idea of romanticism has dominated the literary works, Poe was profoundly worried about the anti conventional artistic views in his literary works. In his own creation, ‘Letter to B’ he had articulated his notion of conflict to the conventional ideas. Poe had always articulated an opposite view to the norm an instruction or truth is the end of literary creations, rather he had always stated that pleasure is the eventual goal of poetry. Poe has stressed more on originality in his literary works. His unique sense of moral had encouraged the later writers of the Modern age in giving particular consideration to the state of human self, particularly to the human mind. As Virginia Woolf had suggested in her writings, the primary goal of art should not be the reflection of the world without it, but to “illumine the mind within, to portray consciousness itself” (McGann, Jerome, pg: 111). One of the most important traits of the Modernist writers is focusing on the world from within human self like it has been depicted in the writings of the realists. Poe has written his works way before the appearance of the Modernist movement during the middle of the nineteenth century, but it had showed that these techniques are used in his literary works that provided an encouragement and a model for the Modernist writers.
Most of his literary works were concerned profoundly about the state of mind of the protagonist than the outside world they were living in. In his The Tell-Tale Heart (1843), it is showcased that the first person narrator is telling about the ‘Evil Eye’ of the old man that makes the narrator “dreadfully nervous”. He also said that the thought of murdering the old man “haunted him every day and night”. It is also seen in the literary work that to get rid of these dreadful idea and the continuous nervousness about murdering him, the narrator had ended up murdering the old man at the dreadful hour of the eighth night and dismembers his body concealing it into the floorboard. However, when the police men came to his house for investigation, he had mystically revealed the crime he has committed due to the overpowering sound of beating the heart ringing into his ears (Rajan, Gita pg: 43). Under the surface of a story of a murderer, Poe has shown the abnormal state of the mind of the protagonist which had driven him in committing the crime and also leading him to the ultimate confession to the policemen.
In the Black cat stories, Edgar Allan Poe also examined the psychopathic tendencies and the cerebral rational of the narrator of the text. He has evaluated their abnormality of their state of mind through the eye of the modern psychological and scientific thinking. In the short story, The Black Cat, Poe has also depicted the story as a first person narrative. The narrator tell the readers than in his early days he had a sheer love for the pets and his wife and he had number of pets including a beautiful black cat named Pluto. Even though both were fond of each other, after coming home intoxicated one night, the narrator thought that the cat is avoiding him (Poe, Edgar Allan, pg: 109). Later the cat bites him and out of a sudden rage he gouges out the eye of the cat with a pen knife. He also takes the cat in the garden and hangs him from a tree until it dies. Strangely that very night his house catches on fire and later he found out an imprint of “a large cat with a rope around its neck on the wall” that had survived the fire. This story also questions the mental sanity of the narrator of the story. This story is one of the darkest tales of Poe that evokes a sense of superstition and the abnormal state of mind of the narrator.
Poe had casted strong traces on the Modernist movement though these literary works that had considered as an inspiration for the modernist writers. It can be considered that Poe was an proto modernist writer as he had foresaw the Modernist trend even before the emergence of it. Furthermore, through the exploration of the common interest in the original ideas like the Modernist writers, ‘avant grade’ skill of writing in the space and time, lonely and alienated characters that are subject to self destruction and self fragmentation show that Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most significant precursors of Modernism or the proto modernist.
Hammond, John R. An Edgar Allan Poe companion: a guide to the short stories, romances and essays. Springer, 2016.
McGann, Jerome. The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel. Harvard University Press, 2014.
Poe, Edgar Allan, Charles Baudelaire, and Albert Anderegg. "The Tell-Tale Heart." (2013).
Poe, Edgar Allan, Short Story Horror Gothic, and Edgar Allan Poe. "How to Not Get Away with Murder: A Psycho in Denial Lets the Cat Out of the Bag." (2014).
Poe, Edgar Allan. The purloined letter. Read Books Ltd, 2015.
Rajan, Gita. "A Feminist Rereading of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”." Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Other Stories. New Edition (2014): 39-54.
Rozenman, Michelle, et al. "The tell-tale heart: physiological reactivity during resolution of ambiguity in youth anxiety." Cognition and Emotion (2017): 1-8.
Walker, Ian, ed. Edgar Allen Poe. Routledge, 2013.
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