jueves, 5 de abril de 2012

Edgar Allan Poe, the master of intrigue, el maestro de la intriga

Edgar Allan Poe, the master of intrigue, el maestro de la intriga

Hoy he visitado el Museo de Edgard Allan Poe, uno de mis escritores norteamericanos predilectos.

Today I visited The Edgar Allan Poe Museum; Poe is one of my much-loved American writers.

Soy un admirador Poe y le tengo afecto por muchas razones: quedó huérfano a los dos años, fue criado por la familia Allan que nunca lo adoptó formalmente (Poe no recibió herencia alguna), la muerte temprana de su amada esposa Virginia Clemm. Poe vivió en la pobreza, ejerció el periodismo, la literatura y fue un enamorado del estado de Virginia (ciudad que me adoptó y me ha tratado bien).

I am Poe’s admirer and very fond of him for several reasons: he was at orphan an age two, he was raised by the Allan family who never adopted him formally (Poe didn’t inherit any money), the early dead of his beloved wife: Virginia Clemm. Poe lived in poverty worked as a writer and journalism and was very fond of Virginia (city that also adopted me and has treated me well).

Pese a que Poe tuvo problemas con el alcohol no bebía tanto como se especula; por cuestiones de salud no tenia tolerancia al alcohol por lo cual se unió en grupo  de Richmond que practicaba la abstinencia.

Even though Poe has some drinking problems, he didn’t drink as much as people speculate; due to health issues and low tolerance to alcohol he joined a Richmond Chapter that practiced temperance.

Su  extraña  muerte en una calle de  Baltimore donde fue hallado inconsciente originó la leyenda del gran escritor de cuentos  detectivescos y de horror.

His strange death in a Baltimore street where he was found unconscious origininated the legend of this great horror and detective tales writer.

Siempre que manejo por Richmond o Baltimore siento nostalgia porque pienso en El gato negro, Anabel Lee, El Cuervo, William Wilson, El Barril de Amontillado, etc. Estas historias ha  sido una suerte de compañeros durante mi vida  loca.

Every time I drive around Richmond or Baltimore I feel nostalgia because I think of The Black Cat, The Raven, William Wilson, The Cask of Amontillado, etc. These stories have been some sort of companion during my Vida Loca.

Hace cuatro años escribí un ensayo en  Poe  para una clase de literatura norteamericana. Este el borrador que escribí y  tuvo correcciones de la profesora Harman; lamentablemente no tengo a mano esas correcciones finales.

Four year ago I wrote an essay about Poe for an American literature class. This is the draft I wrote and had some corrections by professor Harman; unfortunately, I don’t have those final corrections handy.

Aquí el  ensayo escrito con pasión y algunos errores.

Here is the essay written with passion and some mistakes.

Edgar Allan Poe: the master of intrigue

Edgar Allan Poe is without a doubt one of the greatest American short story writers of all times with his important contribution to diverse genres including horror tale, science fiction, and mystery. Poetry and literary criticism are also part of his vast creative work which denotes not only talent and a rigorous composition method; furthermore the influence of his personal life.

Poe usually creates intrigue as soon as he begins to narrate, even by suggesting that the story is either irrelevant or by diminishing the truth of the events he is about to tell. He does it perfectly in The Black Cat by saying, “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen. I neither expect nor solicit believe.”(1593)  Following the same type of disguise, the voice of the narrator again points out that, “My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without any comment,  a serious of mere household events.” 

By using a sort of reverse psychology technique the writer causes the opposite effect in the reader’s mind since he will need to continue reading to understand why the writer bothers to tell such an insignificant story. But Poe is no satisfied with his intention and creates conspiracy by stating that The Black Cat’s main character was terrified, tortured, and destroyed by the mere household events previously mentioned.

                What a perfect set up to trap the reader who now has intrigue to read more to understand the events the author is leading up to , and more importantly  how  simple and small events can destroy a person’s life.

                Poe’s characters are at times similar in perversity and beliefs. The main character of the Black Cat is no different or less cruel than the character of The Cask of Amontillado. In the Black Cat, the voice of the narrator knows that a demon of fury has possessed him; thus, he is perverse and abusive with his wife and brutal toward animals. The situation escalades when he strangulates his cat without any logical reason; even after the animal was affectionate to him, “I knew that in doing so I was committing a deadly sin that would jeopardize my immortal soul.”(1594)

In The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor (the main character) emphasizes that he is looking for revenge because the antagonist (Fortunato) has injured him. Montresor wants to punish Fortunato and hurt him badly, “I must punish but punish with impunity. 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.”(1612)

In both stories, the characters somehow also are analogous to Poe’s behavior and life style. In The Black Cat the main character describes a large cask of gin and rum and he compares his increasing anger to alcohol, in the Cask of Amontillado, Montresor takes his victim with lies to the vaults where he keeps the amontillado.    

Another similarity is found when both speakers use French and Latin words: Bas relief for low relieve, barroques for odd, and the cat’s named is Pluto. The author uses allegory as a device and Roman Mythology is present, for Pluto is the god of dead. We will learn later why The Black Cat is the cause of the narrator’s destruction. By mentioning the Cat’s deadly ending, the author uses foreshadowing, and a literary device to predict or augur later fatal events.   The recurrent use of allegory and symbolism is present in the Cask of Amontillado as well; the antihero’s name is Fortunato which means fortunate or providential. However, Fortunato’s destiny is far from being auspicious at all.

Poe’s main characters are refined, speak French, and have a taste for alcohol. In real life, Poe was an alcoholic who was expelled from college; his brother Henry also died of alcoholism.  In The book The Art of the short story, (his biography) also confirms that Poe’s personal life one way or another inspired him to create peculiar characters. Poe is described as, “a person with irregular habits, high demanding standards, unpredictable temper, and excessive drinking.”(707)

In the Cask of Amontillado, Montresor describes his vault similar to the catacombs of Paris and uses Latin phrases. I. e. Nemo me impune lecessit which means no one insults me with impunity. Furthermore, at the end of the Cask of Amontillado he says to Fortunato, “In pace requiescat”which means may he rest in peace. Fortunato is drunk and can barely breathe because air is scarce meanwhile Montresor is plastering a brick wall leaving him inside.

Coincidental as in the Black Cat’s, the main character plastered a wall leaving his wife’s dead body inside. Even though he has killed his wife with an axe by accident the perversity pattern is very noticeable. His initial intention was to kill a cat that has a bear resemble to Pluto or it is Pluto’s ghost. The cat like a real god of dead has brought blood and murder.

In The Black Cat, the main character understands the existence of God and Law; yet, his freedom of choice is to disobey, “Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment to violate which is law, merely because we understand it to be such?”(1594)

                Poe excels at suspense in his stories and follows a defined and logical structure:  beginning, middle, and end.  Irony, astonishment, sarcasm, and fatality are usually present at the last part. The Black Cat ends with the police discovering the crime thanks to a voice that cries from within the walls; when the walls are later tore down the dead body of his wife is found next to the cat.

                The author’s intention is to cause an arousal out of the reader, either to love or hate the main character or hero. It is imperative to be aware that a main character could also be an antihero like Hawthorne’s Rip Van Winkle. The voice of the narrator through the whole story tries to validate the intention of the author: to prove his hypothesis and/or or reach the climax foreseen at the beginning. In the Black Cat, a mere event destroyed the life of the narrator like the hero announced; in The Cask of Amontillado, Fortunato was punished with impunity as Montresor promised. But the dexterity of Poe is to maintain the reader on guard since there is not insinuation of how the antagonist will be punished. We can foreshadow that something will happen, except the ability of the author will not let the reader outline the conclusion.

In The Tale and its Effect, Poe is very clear about his writing style, “A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out .he then invents such incidents.”(725)

                Poe’s literary work is consistent. Choose a story and the conclusion will be alike: astonishment at the end. The Tell -Tale Heart, William Wilson, the Black Cat, and, the Cask of Amontillado are just some of the stories that validate his writing techniques and criticism.

In his writing The Philosophy of Composition, the maestro Poe confirms that his style is preconceived and intentional, “Nothing is clear {clearer} than every plot, worth the name. Must be elaborated to its denouement before any thing be attempted with the pen.  It is only with the denouement (from French denouer, “to untie”) constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents and especially the tone of the points, tend to the development of the intention.”(1617)

David Ketterer, English Professor at Concordia University (Sir George Williams Campus) in Montreal, Canada has written The Rationale of Deception in Poe mentioned a list of stories where the doppelganger theme is used as a device. By this, Ketterer implies that Poe’s stories talk about two persons who are really one. In The Science Fiction Element in the Work of Poe: a Chronological Survey Ketterer states that the result of the narrator's mutilating his black cat is a projection of those aspects of his personality he wishes to exorcise. (http://www.depauw.edu)

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary doppelganger comes from the German word doppel which means double and the word ganger means goer.  By definition, doppelganger is a ghostly counterpart of a living person. (http://www.merriam-webster.com)

Either intentionally trying to tell about his personal life or to challenge the reader, Poe’s short stories using the doppelganger creates at bizarre atmosphere showing the duality of a person: a lovely husband who becomes a violent person and a murderer or an apparent normal citizen like Montresor who kills his friend Fortunato because he insulted him. Although, the story never elucidates what Fornunato did to Monstresor.

Poe’s personal life was surrounded by tragedy : orphan at two, his wife died after 11 years of marriage; the writer himself died at age forty under odd conditions after being found in poor health and incoherent in a Baltimore street.

D.H Lawrence, a famous American writer said about Poe, “He was an adventurer into vaults and cellars and horrible underground passages of the human soul. He sounded the horror and the warning of his own doom.”(708)

 It is a fact that not all critics and scholars will agree about which were Poe’s real intentions to write about such diverse and controversial topics: doppelganger, psychological issues, murders, violence, and repression; however, most readers will agree that even though his stories were written in the 1800’s , they still are an inspiration for modern writers worldwide.

Work Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Philosophy of Composition” “The Black Cat” “The Cask of Amontillado”

The Norton Anthology American Literature.  Wayne Franklyn, Philip F Goura, and Arnold Krupa. W. W Norton Company. New York-London, 2007. 1593-1594-1612-1617

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tale and its effect” and “Biography” The Art of the Short Story. Dana Gioia and R. S. Gwynn.  Pearson Longman. New York-Boston-Paris, 2006. 708-725

Ketterer, David. “The Science Fiction Element in the Work of Poe: a Chronological Survey.” 2005

The Merriam Webster Dictionary. “Definition of Doppelganger”

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