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Edgar Allan Poe: The Man of the Crowd
On page 164 of class's anthology there is a work by Edgar Allan Poe entitled "The Man of the Crowd." What interests me about this work is the way that Poe deals with the horror or loneliness and isolation that is so much a part of humanity. In this connection, the question that I want to research is whether this loneliness is really recognized in the story as being something causing horror and pain, or whether Poe cannot truly make the reader see his concern regarding this issue. In other words, is what Poe claims realistic, or is it just something created to frighten the reader?
In his story, Poe deals with the concept of the loneliness that humanity faces and how much horror he believes it brings to most people. Because of the way he tells the story he sounds like a very calm and relaxed man, and he appears to be very honest. It is this honesty that makes his readers believe that the horror he describes could be true (Poe, 1956). His soul appears to be dark, though, and he lets some of this come across as well in what he says and how he describes things (Poe, 1956). The impression is almost given throughout the story that Poe is interested in the fact that there is horror in the human condition - that he almost enjoys looking into the pain and misery that being human can bring (Poe, 1956). This may not actually be true, but it is something that seems to come through in the comments that Poe makes.
In the beginning of the story, he talks about talking the reader to a different world, but he does not use it as something that might bring hope, but rather as a warning to the reader that what is to come might not be entirely pleasant to read (Poe, 1956). He is somewhat happy and inquisitive, however, but this soon gives way to the darker and more solemn feelings that Poe actually seems to harbor in his heart (Poe, 1956).
Establishing trust with the reader, however, is what Poe is most interesting in doing, because it allows for the darkness and despair that he feels to seep into the story (Poe, 1956). When Poe talks about it, it does not seem far-fetched or strange. Instead, it seems much more realistic that pain and horror is part of a normal life. There is a lot of terror in life, and there is also a lot of drama. Both of these things are necessary for life, just as happiness and peace are also necessary. Poe does not seem interested in happiness and peace, however, and instead focuses himself on the more tragic aspects of humanity (Poe, 1956). In some writing, this might seem like an attempt to sway the reader too much toward what the narrator or writer thinks, but the way Poe writes, it seems much more realistic and important. Instead of seeming to sway the reader, it seems merely to remind the reader that the main things in life are often painful and dramatic (Poirier, 1966).
One of the ways that Poe works to convey his feelings as he describes the crowd is by seeming to be very cultured and polite (Poirier, 1966). He seems to know several languages and appears to be a very intelligent man (Poirier, 1966). The way that he talks about various things and various people imply a learned individual that has studied not only various subjects but also people as well. The study of people is perhaps more important than the study of issues from books. While books can offer much insight to various things, they should not be confused with the living, and they often are (Poirier, 1966). Examining people can tell a lot more about life, and this is also part of what Poe is trying to convey. While he is discussing the crowd, he wants the reader to also really look at the people that he sees and describes, instead of just looking over them as so many people do when they are in a crowd.
Poe has an extremely valid point, as many people do simply overlook those that are in a crowd, instead of actually taking note of their fellow human beings. Because of this, many people are very isolated and alone, even though they are near other people. Some people have made the comment that they 'feel alone, even in a crowd.' It is this aspect of the human condition that Poe is working toward emphasizing, and his wording works quite well. Because he spends time talking about the crowd, it is easy to forget that there is a particular story still coming, and that someone specific in the crowd is actually the object of that story (Poirier, 1987). It simply slips away in the rest of the story.
Poe peruses the crowd almost casually, and because he does that the reader completely relaxes and just enjoys the discussion. The understanding that there is a point to the tale seems to fade away in the discussion and when the tale actually comes around it is more shocking because it is relatively unexpected. It shouldn't be, because Poe warned of it in the beginning, but it comes as a shock nonetheless, just as does much of life.
Even throughout the relaxing discussion of the crowd, Poe does remind the reader, very subtly, of some of the drama and concern that is involved in life. He does this by the use of words and phrases that have more urgency in them than should be expected for the normal story of a crowd of people, and he uses the word "die" quite often, which seems somewhat odd for a gentle tale of a crowd (Poirier, 1987). The tale is anything but gentle, however, and Poe cannot always make it appear that everything in the crowd is all right (Poirier, 1987). A reader who is really paying attention to what Poe is saying cannot ignore the rhythm of the words or the harbinger of doom that seems to hover over what is being said and done.
Even the reader who is relaxed has a hard time completely ignoring some of the concerns that he or she has when Poe talks of the crowd. It is almost a subconscious concern that there is something fundamentally wrong with the story that Poe is alluding to, but that he will not come right out and clearly state (Poirier, 1987). It is left to the reader to harbor that unease and try not to let it bother him or her while the tale goes on.
Finally, Poe takes the reader to where he was headed all along - the one man in the crowd that should be truly seen (Poirier, 1987). Through the story's narrator, Poe has the reader look directly into the man's face (Poirier, 1987). It appears that this might bring some kind of closure to the story, because it becomes clear, through description, that the narrator and the man in the crowd are alter egos (Schwartz, 1986). They are basically living parallel lives without ever meeting one another. When the narrator looks into the face of the man, the man does not see him, and therefore there is no closure at all to the life of the narrator or the story that Poe tells (Schwartz, 1986).
This may not seem overly significant, but it actually is. The parallel lives that are lived by so many people do not intersect, even if it appears that they should. This is Poe's central point - that people are essentially alone. Even those people that live their lives right next to each other do not really…[continue]
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