E A Poe the Themes of Term Paper

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.. They are neither man nor woman- They are neither brute nor human- They are Ghouls..."

Graham's (2003) analysis of "Bells" show that Poe intentionally creates different categories of bells in order to illustrate the various emotional states individuals have had experienced in their life. She argues that the poem "not only...powerfully convey emotional effects to...readers, but also makes readers subconsciously convey those effects with facial expressions...," a characteristic found more strongly in Poe's depiction of the Iron and Brazen bells.

Indeed, through "Bells," readers undergo what Poe identifies as 'excitements' that are "psychal necessity" or "transient." Emphasis on these point proves that shifts in emotions ultimately results to restlessness, instability of one's psyche, and ultimately, escape from this instability, which may be achieved by either succumbing to insanity or death. This is the natural state of the human mind that Poe provokes in his poem, a situation similar to Montresor's experience in the "Cask": once provoked by an insult, Montresor's propensity to succumb to insanity was triggered; hence, the occurrence of Fortunato's death by being buried alive. Thus, there is parallelism between "Cask" and "Bells" in terms of depicting the progression of the plot or events from the development of insanity to the occurrence of death.

Haunted Palace" is more explicit in its description of horror and mystery than "Bells." From the title itself, it becomes apparent that Poe wants to create an air of fear among his readers -- the fear of falling to insanity and deviating from the rationalistic thought humankind is known for. This poem is more explicit in its message, since Poe infuses the phrase "Thought's dominion" to depict the dominance of sanity in society, while illustrating insanity as a deviant behavior through the phrase, "evil things in robes of sorrow."

It is apparent that the poet wants to discuss the concept of insanity philosophically, and does so by expressing his meanings and arguments through imagery and symbolism. Insanity is a horror, according to the poem, for it destroys the rationalization of society (represented by the "green Valley" in the poem). Moreover, the arrival of "evil things" -- of irrational thought, that is -- resulted to the fall of humankind, illustrated by the following lines in the poem: "Vast forms, that move fantastically to a discordant melody, While, like a ghastly rapid river, Through the pale door a hideous throng rush out forever and laugh- but smile no more."

These lines reiterate Magill's (1998) assertion that the poem is a creation that tells the story of humanity, who has "...fallen state from his former one that he can only touch his visionary self through reverie and dream... The only escape from the now hideous palace and its discord is death, and the dying are only too eager to rush out of the palace as quickly as they can" (883). His analysis speaks very well of Poe's strategy in "Haunted," in the same way that "Bells" considered death as more horrific but a necessary way to end humanity's internal struggle against its own irrational behavior. Thus, "Haunted" explicitly shows the individual considering his own self as the enemy, a battle between sanity and insanity. The death of sanity can lead to insanity, while the death of insanity can lead to death in the literal sense; hence, Poe's characters have, more often than not, opted for death to reign in order to escape their unstable state of sanity. However, it can also be argued that, as depicted in "Cask," "Bells," and "Haunted," there is no easy way out of insanity nor death -- the decision to live ultimately depends on the individual's freedom to choose.

This brings the analysis of Poe's work into a more meaningful reflection: it becomes evident that the poet/writer gives value to individual choice -- that, in order to become truly accepting of reality, we, as humans, should first acknowledge our true selves, both the rational and irrational selves lurking within each individual's psyche. Insanity and death are mere tools to illustrate the power of freedom of choice within the individual. Triumph does not mean conquering insanity or death, nor do failure means succumbing to insanity or killing one's self or another human being's life. Triumph happens when the individual, sane or not, becomes aware and acknowledges his true state; failure occurs when he fails to accept the "truth" of his reality.

As was evident in his works, Poe expresses his dismay over humanity as Montresor failed to accept his true self and attempted to bury the truth deep in his underground cellar; when the Voice of "Bells" trembled at the thought of insanity and feared the coming of death; and when "Haunted" showed disapproval of irrationality simply because it deviates from the norms imposed by the dominant rational society. In effect, failure to accept one's true self is the 'real horror' of humanity that Poe wants to extend to his readers in his works. Fear of knowing the truth, as what his works illustrate, ultimately leads to the death of the self, and of humanity.


Frank, F. (1997). The Poe Encyclopedia. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Graham, K. (2003). Poe's "The Bells." Explicator, Vol. 62, Issue 1.

Magill, F. (1998). Notable Poets. CA: Salem Press.

Magistrale, T. (2001). Student Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Westport: Praeger.

Poe, E.A. E-text of "The Bells." Available at http://bau2.uibk.ac.at/sg/poe/works/poetry/bells.html.

____. E-text of "The Cask of Amontillado." Available at http://www.literature.org/authors/poe-edgar-allan/amontillado.html.

____. E-text of "The Haunted Palace." Available at http://bau2.uibk.ac.at/sg/poe/works/poetry/haunted.html.

____. (1845). The Poetic Principle. NJ: Bibliobytes.

Thomson, D. (2002). Gothic Writers: A critical and bibliographical guide. Westport: Praeger.

Whalen, T. (1999). Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America. NJ: Princeton University Press.[continue]

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