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Dark Romantic: Edgar Allen Poe, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 773

Essay

What does Poe’s “Raven” and “Fall of the House of Usher” express about human psychology and mental illness?

 As a Dark Romantic, Edgar Allen Poe’s work often represented the belief that knowledge is hidden from mankind or too terrible to discover.  In Poe’s work, mental illness often represents the results of knowledge of the world.  The irony of “The Raven” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” is that the characters in each work are not any more mentally ill than general humanity.  Poe uses the mental illness of his characters to demonstrate how difficult it is for humans to perceive their world and how perception of reality can drive one insane.

In “The Raven,” the unnamed narrator becomes increasingly mentally disturbed as the poem progresses.  This disturbance hinges on two factors: the death of Lenore and the narrator’s thirst for knowledge. Since the death of Lenore, the narrator has immersed himself in books of ancient and forgotten lore.  He seems to be seeking something that will serve as a palliative for the death of his love.  This research mimics that of the character in another work of Romantic fiction, Frankenstein.  The reading he does reveals much about the world to him, but he is unable to find any way to bring back Lenore.  When the mocker of his madness, the raven, enters his room, it perches upon the bust of Pallas.  Pallas Athena is the Roman goddess of wisdom.  Thus, the raven is mocking the narrator’s knowledge.  As Unrue notices, the narrator, “by the phrasing of his questions, ensur[es] the confirmation of his own worst fears about death and loss and the annihilation of the soul” (117).  Despite all his reading, the narrator cannot bring back Lenore, cannot allay his fears, and his discovery of this knowledge is what drives him insane.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick Usher resides with his twin sister within a huge family mansion.  Both he and his sister appear to suffer from mental illness that has multiple origins including a lack of genetic diversity in the family, a heightened sense of awareness, and a thorough education.  The heightened sense of awareness that Roderick displays allows him to gather much more information from the environment than a non-afflicted person.  He can hear more details and music deeply affects him.  The sounds of his sister scratching to get out of her tomb is one of the primary events that complete his mental decay.  The sounds do not affect the narrator because he is unable to access that knowledge.  The narrator, having less knowledge of the world, appears to be more mentally sound but is not.  As Timmerman states, “it is hard to find the narrator exercising anything like a force of reason. In the main, his role is limited to some musing observations, a rather slow study in horror, and a hopeless inefficiency to do much of anything about the divisive destruction of the tenants of the House, which seems to be precisely Poe’s point” (237).

Prior to his sister’s death, Roderick is well on his way to insanity.  Roderick has an exceptionally large library, and by his conversations with the narrator, the reader can deduce that he has spent much time reading.  He has memorized poems and references other works with which he is familiar.  He also asks the narrator to read to him in an attempt to drown out the noises he hears from the catacombs.  However, the stories only disturb him further until he descends into total madness.

In Poe’s work, a person can gain knowledge of the world, but this knowledge will drive him to insanity.  Both the narrator in “The Raven” and Roderick Usher suffer mental breakdowns caused by advanced knowledge of the world through perception and reading.  The only unaffected characters in the works are those who do not seek or possess knowledge.  In the eyes of the Dark Romantic, the core of our world is not the great good of the Transcendentalists but the sins of our fathers.

Works Cited

Brewton, Vince. “Bold Defiance Took Its Place” — “Respect” and Self-Making in Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.” Mississippi Quarterly 58.3/4 (2005): 703-717. Literary Reference Center. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Peyser, Thomas. “The Attack on Christianity In “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”  Explicator 69.2 (2011): 86-89. Literary Reference Center. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Timmerman, John H. “House of Mirrors: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’” Papers on Language & Literature 39.3 (2003): 227-244. Sociological Collection. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Unrue, Darlene Harbour. “Edgar Allan Poe: The Romantic as Classicist.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 1.4 (1995): 112-119. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

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