Connecting The Life With the Works of Edgar Allan Poe

The works of Edgar Allan Poe continue to be some of the most iconic pieces of American Literature to this day. He was known for his poetry, short stories, and literary criticism. It is a challenge to select which works to write about, considering there are so many of them. Naturally, most writers base varying degrees of their work on the writer’s upbringing and life experiences. There is an entire form of literary criticism devoted towards showing the relationship between the life of an author and their literary works. It is called Biographical criticism. It does not always provide definite answers to questions about the text. But, it gives insight into how the author uses their creative process in establishing things like characters, setting, and tone of the story.

Probably his most iconic work is The Raven. One aspect of the text that has been questioned with regards to its relationship with Poe’s life is it’s reference to the lost Lenore. It seems understandable that one may think Lenore could be a reference to wife Virginia Poe (Norton 733.) Virginia died just three years after the poem’s original publication in 1845. The melancholy tone of its unnamed narrator resonates with readers and poets alike. Jorie Graham indicates such in her critical piece about The Raven. She states The Raven’s uttering of nevermore serve as reminders of the fact that the death of a loved one is not only inevitable, as in without option and without another side (Jorie 238). The Raven itself is merely reminding the narrator of that fact in its croaking of nevermore. Of course, laughing at the Raven and dismissing it as a visitor turn the man into a satanic rage.

                        “Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked upstarting-

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian Shore!

Leave no black plue as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!

Leave my lonliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” (Poe 3.)

Of course, readers will find connections with Poe’s life in more than just his most notable poem The Raven. It is important to remember that biographical criticism is often tied in with historical criticism. The Pit and the Pendulum is set during the Spanish Inquisition. The unnamed male narrator managed to escape a brutal execution by a scythe hanging on the bottom of a pendulum. He was presumably sentenced to execution because he went against the teachings of the Catholic church. Poe published the poem just nine years after the Spanish Inquisition officially disbanded in 1834. He obviously did not live in Spain while the Inquisition was coming to an end. Therefore, the most likely explanation for such a brutal and graphic portrayal was to show the horrors of an execution, despite its lack of historical accuracy.

Reading the biography in the 9th edition to the Norton Anthology of American Literature might cause a reader to presume that he experienced abuse in the foster family he was adopted into after mother Elizabeth Poe died in 1811 and father David Poe abandoned his family. Some may say that despite lack of any specific indication inside of the text. It indicates there were “hostilities” between Poe and stepfather Allan after Allan’s law firm failed in 1824 (Norton 731.) Later in life, Poe’s struggles with alcohol abuse and his lack of financial stability plagued him throughout his life. University of Massachusetts alumni Jennifer Bouchard indicates that both Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado provide into the demons in the human brain (Bouchard 3.) There are several lines in the text which offer some autobiographical context into his writing style. One can see after reading Tell-Tale Heart that Poe was very meticulous with regards to crafting his characters and ensuring the reader catches the matter of fact style of writing Poe crafts for this unnamed male narrator who just committed a brutal, yet well thought out, act of murder.

If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye – not even his could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out – no stain of any kind – no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all – ha ha! (Poe 3.)

As stated earlier, Poe was most widely known for writing short stories. The Fall of the House of Usher is one of his few works which would be considered the length of a novella. It is unique to his writing style because it departs from his usual gory and violent stories. Due to this, it is more challenging to find biographical contexts within the story. The unnamed male narrator is visiting the home of a childhood friend. Said friend, named Roderick, has an unspecified mental disorder. Wife Madeline dies from being seriously ill and needing constant care. The characters mental state continues to dwindle as the story goes on. Literary scholars suggest that Madeline and Roderick are caricatures of Poe and his deceased wife Virginia. The Fall Of the House of Usher was published one year after Poe’s mysterious death in 1849 (Norton 733.) One can find elements of Poe’s coping with the loss of Virginia throughout the story.

Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself finally to the bed; but, on the closing in the evening of my arrival at the house she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible agitation.) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain – that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more. (Poe 4.)

It is no secret that the works of Edgar Allan Poe continue to be read and criticized to this day. They resonate with readers because they’re reminded about how reminders of how one copes with death, wrongful execution, the demons in one’s brain and mental illness. The world didn’t get to know many of his works until after his death. Therefore, one can only use the text itself to determine which aspects of his life are relevant. It shows how even the most painful experiences in one’s life can be turned into a literary masterpiece.


My Thoughts on “The Raven”

This was an essay I wrote in English class as a response to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

The Raven: Analysis and Interpretation

Analysis and interpretation of Literature is a great art form. The reader must read through the story or poem several times in order to gain a clear understanding of the work and its meaning. “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe is a remarkable example of a work that has been interpreted in many different ways. I intend to analyze why he used a black raven as a symbol of prophetic significance. The ghastly raven, along with other notable symbols, are one of the many reasons Edgar Allan Poe remains to be one of the most recognizable authors throughout American history.

The story begins on a cold night in December. The unnamed male narrator, whose wife Lenore has presumably died, is napping in his home and awoken by a sudden tapping sound. He is trying to overcome the sorrow from her loss. The narrator tries to address the person or object making the strange tapping sound and no response is heard.  The narrator then opens the door to see where the sound is coming from on and discovers that nobody is there. He then goes back inside and the tapping sound continues. He opens the door an investigates a second time, “Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—Perched, and sat, and nothing more.” (Poe, 1028-1031.)

The narrator then continues to ask the raven to state its name and is surprised to hear it croak “nevermore.” He initially assumes this Raven is exhibiting the parrot like tendencies of repeating words and phrases uttered by the creature’s human counterparts. Online articles have indicated the Poe intended to use a parrot as the main symbol, however, he decided that a raven would better fit the poems melancholy tone. However, the narrator’s reaction to this Raven radically changes as the poem progresses onward. Those endeared feelings change to perplexed when he questions why the Raven continues to croak “nevermore.” Perplexed then changes to downright unhinged. “Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting- “Get the back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian’s shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out of my heart, and take thy form from off my door! Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore!” (Poe, 1028-1031.) The raven seems to be taunting the narrator and reminding him that he will not be able to see his lost Lenore in heaven. He allowed its taunts to push him into a satanic rage.

I, like many other readers, initially questioned why Poe would write such a dark and mysterious poem about death and the inability to overcome from grief. Reading about his life gave me a very clear perspective. Internet blogs and articles have indicated that “The Raven” was simply a rehearsal for the ultimate grief that American author Edgar Allan Poe was bound to experience. His wife, Virginia was playing piano and singing at an opera house when she suddenly began coughing up blood. It became apparent to Poe that those were symptoms of the deadly disease now known as tuberculosis. The Raven was simply a preparatory piece for the grief he was destined to experience when Virginia was to lose her battle with tuberculosis. (Women’s History Blog: Virginia Clemm.) Poe chose death as the central theme because it is an inevitable topic that we all face at some point in our lives. I especially appreciated line 89. “Is there balm in Gilead? Tell me – tell me, I implore.” (Poe, 1028-1031.) It is a reference to the old testament verse Jerimiah 8:22. Our church has often sung a hymn inspired by that verse titled “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Poe obviously didn’t strike me as the religious type. Nevertheless, it certainly reminded me how dealing with a loved one’s death of a loved one can certainly seem like there is no “balm in Gilead.” Knowing such a truth begs one important question. Could Poe have deliberately portrayed this Raven as more than just an innocent bird parroting words and phrases uttered by its human counter parts? Could he have actually portrayed it as a satanic force that insists on reminding the narrator that he is doomed to eternal damnation and will never see his lost Lenore in heaven? I am sure this question would receive a variety of answers.

As one can see, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” has become one of the most recognizable works in American literature. The work is a very real reminder that people react to death in many different ways. Some are able to overcome the pain and marry again. Others, however, fall into deep sorrow and depression because they cannot cope. The American classic gave us a glimpse into Poe’s life and how he dealt with his wife’s diagnosis of tuberculosis. It gives us all a reminder about the importance of finding a way to cope with death.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar-Allan “The Raven.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, 11th Ed. Kelly J. Mays.

         NY: Norton, 2013. 1028-1031. Print

Hallqvist Christopher. “Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Poe Decoder. 1998.

         Web. 3 March 2016

Maggie MacLean. “Virginia Clemm: Wife of Author Edgar Allan Poe.”

          History of American Women Blog. 8 April 2014. Web. 3 March 2016