Week 10: POE POE POE POE POE Post Due: Mon., Nov. 9

Thank you students for your thoughtful responses to the courageous soul and brilliant writer: Henry David Thoreau. Ariel, for example, points to the key quote from “Civil Disobedience” that calls attention to the importance of taking a stand against a corrupt government:

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?”

From Walden,or Life in the Woods, there are so many powerful quotes and words of wisdom.  Amina chose this great one:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard times. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.” 

Mohammed chose this fantastic line:

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more that his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

In a chaotic world in which we are all obsessively glued to our laptops and iphones for too much of the day, let’s all take a breather and try to find true solitude and perhaps even higher enlightenment. Thoreau and Emerson (and Nature itself) can serve as guides for accessing the “genius” within us all and the power of the glorious universe around us.

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For this week, I want to introduce America’s first professional writer of stories and poetry: Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe remains one of the world’s most beloved and versatile writer and a key figure in American Romanticism. In “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” (1841), featuring the detective C. Auguste Dupin (think Sherlock Holmes), he invented the detective story. In his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, he wrote the first science fiction novel. He also invented the horror genre that fueled the writings of Stephen King and today’s many horror films. He was also America’s first literary critic. 

He led an unusual life, filled with youthful love, romantic yearning, literary ambition, and—unfortunately—alcoholism. His life experiences allowed him to become a master of psychological forces that brood just beneath the surface of our own rational selves. As you read his works, think about how they serve as precursors to Sigmund Freud’s theories on the battle between our rational and irrational impulses (the Id, the Ego, and Superego).

Here is a short biography of his life.

Interestingly, Poe spent his last years in the Bronx in a cottage that remains a museum (and a great place to visit).  Please watch this video of his years there.

His most famous poem “The Raven” (1845) was written in Manhattan (West 84th Street to be exact) and relates the extreme grief a narrator feels upon the death of a beautiful maiden, named “Lenore.”  When a raven comes into his apartment and sits upon a bust of Pallas (Athena who represents wisdom and rationality), he starts asking all kinds of crazy questions hoping for answers about a possible reunification with Lenore. The poem is renowned for its symbolism and repetitive rhyme scheme that mimics the feelings of unending grief.  It’s also important to note that Poe lost his own young wife (Virginia Clemm), soon after writing this poem. He knew she was dying of tuberculosis and had only months to live.

Please watch a video version of the poem here:  “The Raven”  (read by Christopher Lee)

Please also read this spooky tale (one of many), focusing on the themes of madness and revenge, called “The Black Cat.”

If you have the time, I also highly recommend watching this new animated film based on several of his stories (it’s free but there are a few ads).

In your post, please let me know which tale, poem, or part of the film interested you the most and why. You may also choose to make a connection of Poe’s life to his fiction. Post due: Monday, Nov. 7th.

Enjoy and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

38 Comments

  1. Mohammed Islam

    I liked the the tale “The Black Cat”. I think it has a lot of messages behind it. He talks about alcoholism, anger, revenge and going crazy. I liked how at the end he gave himself up and said it was the cat’s revenge but I feel as he was feeling a bit guilty. he admitted to what he had done and then he must face the consequences of his actions. There’s a saying that goes “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. I relate this to the character from the tale because he cuts the eye out of the first black cat and finds the second one and does the same thing. He thing attacks his wife and kills her. Bad things kept happening after he kept killing. I believe the deeper issue was his addiction to alcoholism. Edgar Allan Poe had problems with alcoholism and he incorporated it into his work. Maybe this tale was a bit of how he was feeling at the time.

    • sumayah

      wow! I did notice the message behind this story

    • Mark Noonan

      Great discussion Mohammed. I think you are right about the connection of Poe’s own alcoholism to the main character’s addiction in the story.

  2. sumayah

    I’m a fan of spooky and horror stories and you’ll probably think that I love the Halloween season which is true! When I read the tale of the black cat I felt like it was very unique because it talks about a man who loved animals but suddenly goes mad becomes this evil man who tortured the cat that he once loved. It’s so strange and scary how a person can change over time, the rage and anger that this man had were unbelievable, how can someone be this cruel! let alone that he killed his own wife and did not feel guilty about it which made me so sad.

    • Mark Noonan

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story Sumayah. The lack of remorse on behalf of the protagonist is certainly part of horror of this tale.

  3. Brianna

    I read “The Black Cat” a few weeks ago in my Literature class. Im not really a fan of horror stories but this story was interesting. The narrator’s struggle with alcoholism led to him destructive acts. He killed him favorite animal, his cat, Pluto which was really surprising. He also killed his wife with an axe. t was crazy to read about how he developed such anger and rage that led him to kill his wife and cat without any remorse which was really sad. He said that the Spirit of Perverseness had taken him over making him act all violent and crazy, but maybe it was also his addiction to alcohol.

    • Mark Noonan

      Yes yes, Brianna. Poe is so fascinated by the perversity hidden in some people. Add alcohol to the mix (and a body burial) and you have the quintessential Poe horror tale!

  4. Amina Shabbir

    The story “Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe was fascinating to read since it demonstrates how the human mind may see its own degradation and ruin. “The Black Cat” is a narrative about the struggle between love and hatred, as well as an excellent illustration of the consequences of drinking. The narrator seemed to love both his wife and his pets at first, but toward the end of the story, his love had turned into carelessness, impatience, and even anger, mostly toward Pluto. Despite the fact that Poe does not give a clear explanation for the narrator’s increasing insanity. However, the narrator acknowledges that alcohol is a factor and emphasizes that insanity can occur at any time.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very interesting point about the struggle (fine line) between love and hate that Poe so loves to explore, Amina.

  5. Brian Chan

    One part of the film “The Raven” that I enjoyed is the well known scene in which Poe hears knocking on his chamber door. Upon opening the door, he discovers that nobody is there but a raven that he tries to get rid of. In a way, I think it symbolizes Poe’s desire to seek social interaction but at the same time he rejects it because of his trauma with those he cared for. He may be emotionally broken, as he did experience many tragic events in his life including the deaths of his wife and mother. A lot of Poe’s works focus on death and I think its his own way of self expression. On the side note, the film spoke about an angel named Lenore and that was the name of his deceased wife/cousin and I think this is one of the links between his works and personal life.

    • Mark Noonan

      That’s right, Brian. This haunting poem is very much about the loss (and Poe’s ensuing grief) following the death of his wife Virginia (Lenore).

  6. Ariel Montesino

    I enjoyed the Black Cat because although its quite a short read there is a lot to learn from its themes. One moment the main characters happy and loved by all his animals and the next he’s filled with unending anger towards the cat. Anger that seemed to have been caused by a drinking addiction and as he continued to drink his anger worsened. The twist at the end that he became so enraged that he kills his own wife was a nice touch.

    • Mark Noonan

      Poe is certainly the master of macabre fine touches in his work!

  7. Ulises

    I JUST LOVED “The Black Cat,” how fascinating this tale is! I am really into horror movies. I am not really into horror books, or readings, because I don’t really like to read. However, this tale is just a masterpiece! It is not too extensive or long, it does not contain a sophisticated or complex writing, and simply from the beginning to the end keeps you hooked. In my opinion, what this character hides is simply insanity. I do not know what that disease or disorder is really called, but it is when the person performs actions without being aware of what they are doing. I say this specifically because of the part in which he realizes that the second cat did not have an eye, in which the man could easily remove it without being conscious, so it would not be mentioned in the narrative either. I can also get to relate it to the movie “Split, “ in which the main character suffers from personality disorders; in this case, the man would suffer from some personality disorders that are represented in the story. These are: an aggressive personality that comes to commit evil and where blood is shed; another personality it would be when he suffers from the actions that he committed when he reveals to the officers what makes them find the body of his wife. Another, is depressive personality, so it makes him suffer from alcoholism spending his time at the inn drinking. And many more that can be found with a deeper analysis in the writing.

    • Mark Noonan

      I’m glad you liked this fine tale so much Ulises. I think you’re right to pick up on what psychologist’s now call “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). Rooted in childhood issues of abandonment (which the narrator discusses), the mental disease certainly overtakes the protagonist much like the famed film you also describe. In a way, we are all successors to the will (and perverse) imagination and psychological insights of Poe.

  8. Amyl

    I am a huge horror, thriller, and psychological fan. So, when I saw the story “The Black Cat” I had to read it. I hadn’t noticed at first, but Edgar Allan Poe is famous for his short stories. Another work that I’ve read before is called “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which I’ve enjoyed. It was interesting to see him use bolded letters in this particular story. Although usually, his story ends with the character’s demise, it ends differently than I had imagined. Poe’s stories are never dull, and the endings sometimes remind me of the series Goosebumps except that they are short stories. The story began sweetly of the couple and their love for animals and turned dark quickly. His tendencies seem to show signs of mental illness and depression. The main character drowned himself in alcohol. The more the animals/people loved him, the more he wanted to end them. In the story, he’s killed the cat twice. He drove a knife to his wife’s heart in his third attempt and buried her in the walls. I found it entertaining to see him meet his demise. His cockiness and cruelness came back to end him, and you know what they say, cats have nine lives.

    • Mark Noonan

      Interesting parallel to “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Amy. Like that tale, we start with a confession, witness a murder and wall burial, and end with a discovery caused by some irrational force. Poe repeats himself yet always with a compelling twist — as you suggest.

  9. Zarif Khan

    “The Black Cat” is a very interesting and saddening story. The main character starts off to be a very loving character however later on in the story he becomes much more violent towards his cat and even his wife! When he ends up killing his wife, and the police comes it seems as the cat comes to haunt him. One message that I can see portrayed in this story is that your actions cannot be changed, but the way you treat others in the future can be, so it is important to try and change your ways before it is too late!

    • Mark Noonan

      You derive an excellent moral from this story Zarif!

  10. Enson Zhou

    While reading the Black Cat Poem I felt like I was part of the story, The way Edgar Allen Poe arranges and chooses his words to grab the attention of the audience is amazing. After reading the poem it really saddened me that he would kill his own cat. This also shows that your mind goes insane once your body gets used to harmful substances like drugs and alcohol. This poem is also a good example of karma because the day that he kills his cat, his house burns down, and all of his stuff. Another example of karma in the poem is when he tried to kill the cat that has been following him. Instead of killing the cat, he kills his wife and conceals her body in the wall. Once authorities come looking for his wife, the cat gives away the location of the dead corpse. Overall the poem is a good example of what taking drugs and alcohol can do and how karma is real.

    • Mark Noonan

      Enson,

      I like your insights here especially your recognition of Poe’s literary artistry.

  11. Karina

    I really enjoyed reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. Within this poem, he was able to convey several messages. The most recognized message was that of his late beloved wife. Grief is an overwhelming emotion throughout the whole poem in which Poe has been completely taken over by his grief over Lenore. In the beginning, he was trying to distract himself by reading some tales, but once the raven started knocking, he immediately started asking it questions; such as will he ever meet with his wife and other questions. Apart from grief, (due to his beloved’s death, and other people he personally knew distancing from him/falling ill, etc.) another theme portrayed in this poem, was devotion. He truly loved his late wife, he used the words “sainted” and “radiant”. I really enjoyed reading this poem as Poe was able to truly express what he felt using symbols such as the a raven as something dark and from there expressing his feelings.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very interesting reading of both the narrator’s extreme grief and utter devotion to his “lost” Lenore. In another story (“Eleonora”), the protagonist will never love another woman after the death of Eloenora, but she comes down to him in Heaven and actually gives him permission. A discussion of both these works on the themes of grief and loyalty would make for a fantastic essay. Not much is written on the little known story “Eleonora”). https://poestories.com/read/eleonora

  12. tenzin tsomo

    The Black Cat by Poe, I found it most interesting yet disturbing, this tale centers on cruelty towards animals, murder, and guilt, and is told by an unreliable narrator who’s rather difficult to like. “The Black Cat’ can be analyzed as Poe’s dislike of alcohol as he himself struggled with alcohol and was likely to drinking bouts which caused him to act erratically, so he knew well the dangers of over-drinking in drink until it begins to alter the drinker’s moods. The narrator’s growing irritation and frustration towards both cats may, then, be a result of his drinking problems. The theme of this tale is the danger of drinking, you become someone you are not and can cause to act angry and aggressive. As alcohol affects the brain causing lower inhibitions, which makes us feel more confident. But lower inhibitions can also make us say or do something that we may come to regret. And this can lead to arguments.

    • Mark Noonan

      Good connection to the dangers of alcohol, certainly one of the morals from this “perverse” tale, Tenzin.

  13. Nelson Estrella II

    The story of the black cat was extremely intense to read. It took me over three reads fo truly come to my sense how a person could do that to an animal. I have a cat his name is sutter and he is completely grey and has white paws. I can’t imagine hanging my cat and letting him suffer. Not to mention stabbing my wife and leaving her body to Rot. I realized being under the influence all the time is extremely not healthy and can cause you to make mistakes that will cost you your life.

    • Mark Noonan

      Nelson, Sorry for the tough experience reading about the mistreatment of a beautiful feline.
      You’re completely right though that this tale is in part a warning against the dangers of intoxication as much as the irrational/cruel impulses that drive evil in this world.

  14. majoguadua

    After reading The Raven I feel the same way about the poem as the Professor implies “This poem is renowned for its symbolism and repetitive rhyme scheme that mimics the feelings of unending grief.”
    Poe’s way to express his experience of facing death and grieving in this poem is very captivating, even though this is about something dark, it captivated my senses and I managed to make myself feel while reading this poem how it feels when death and its energy comes to visit you, he associated it to a black crow and this calls my attention. It makes me think that sometimes emotions and feelings are not always intangible, sometimes we can give them a body and life if we want to. I understand that Poe’s inspiration was driven by death, darkness, and twistedness, and I do not judge him for that. I feel that creative and artistic minds are a sea with infinite depth. Where even the most unthinkable can be the source of inspiration for some. Yet I find this fascinating, not because I like the idea of darkness reigning over the light, but because death and suffering can sometimes be transformed and turned into art. This makes me want to mention the designer Alexander Mcqueen as an example, who found inspiration in his black past, in which suffering, rape, and blood were the protagonists. Yet he used this as a driver of inspiration for his creations and turn his twisted experiences into art.

  15. Terri.Ann

    ‘What a miserable & disgruntled man” was all I kept thinking whilst reading “The Black Cat.” He laments over how humans and relationships changes throughout the years, but he seems to be the one who changes the most throughout the story. Hypocritical maybe? Weirdly enough he begins the story almost like an announcement or confession- but doesn’t take blame or seems remorseful at all.

    I would think as humans we all have pondered “murderous” or “mischievous” thoughts once in a while- if not well I hope I am not telling on myself. Frustration might cause one to yell at a crying baby or we might imagine tripping the annoying coworker who doesn’t know when to leave. However a good conscious. morals and our temper should quickly bring us back to reality. This man seems to have none of the afore mentioned whatsoever.

    As a pet owner I was completely mortified at this story.

    • Mark Noonan

      Your point about the narrator’s absolute lack of remorse for his evil-doings is certainly at the heart of Poe’s chilling writings. I too am a pet lover, and I apologize for not providing a “trigger warning” on this gruesome piece. Thank you for your candid comments, Terri Ann.

  16. Paulina

    The tale I decided to read was “The black cat” and I found it very interesting. I’m more into scary movies and shows than actually reading them but I found this one reading very interesting to go over. I found it unbelievable how a person can change over time and make them do things they didn’t think they would do. This man in the story killed his wife and cat. That part of the reading really surprised me to read because it drove him into doing something this crazy.

    • Mark Noonan

      Thanks for your interesting reply Paulina.

  17. Christin

    In the short story “the black cat” by Edgar Allen Poe, the theme is guilt. Guilt takes a toll on the narrators life. His life took a quick turn once alcohol became involved. He had little to no self control when under the influence which lead to his downfall. He went to the extent of killing the family he went home to everyday, including his cat and his wife. Alcohol made he become someone polar opposite to his true identity, which was a caring and loving individual. I found this interesting because this is a common story that is told by many people all over the world. Being under the influence, whether its drugs or alcohol, often turns people to evil. In addition, guilt pushed him to tell his truth and tell his side of the story before his death in hopes of “freeing his soul from the horrible weight that lies upon it.”
    To add on, I would say guilt subconsciously made him tell on himself. He knew where the body of his wife laid and still brought attention to that location. So regardless if he got caught or not by law enforcement, guilt followed him everywhere he went. He wouldn’t ever be able to live the life he once lived, which consisted of love and peace.

  18. Mehreen Khanom

    “Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe interested me the most because of his spooky and creepy story. I believe the message behind this story is what goes around comes around. You can’t escape guilt and fear. He felt confident about killing and hiding his wife’s body but the fear took over and Poe ended up exposing himself to the police. This story symbolizes Poe’s personality and emotion. His addiction to alcohol took away his emotions, turned him cold-hearted. I have six cats of my own and two of them are black, reading his story about the great bond he had with Pluto before becoming alcoholic and later feeling nothing but hate for Pluto was upsetting and brutal.

  19. haroodg

    The title of the Black Cat initially attracted me to the story. It reminded me of a poem that I’ve created a semester ago, called Le Chat Noir. These were a set of poems, a set of haikus that I’ve created which revolve around a black cat. When writing that poem, I tried to elaborate on the significance of a black cat. It was inspired by the fact that black cats are usually considered a sign of misfortune and bad luck, thus giving me a reason to write it. While reading Edgar Allan Poe’s story of “The Black Cat”, I realized that befriending the cat was by pure circumstance. The transformation of his love for animals into a sinister hatred of animals was shocking. Poe’s character struggles with morality and righteousness throughout the story. He states that “Are not we humans at all times pushed, ever driven in some unknown way to break the law just because we understand it to be the law”, using the law to justify his temptations. As his relationship with the cat declined into insanity, I realized that there was something else inside of him that even he didn’t understand. As a consequence, he killed the cat. I find it so interesting that despite feeling so guilty about his cat, he took up a new relationship with another black cat that resembled his in appearance, but the hatred remained. He then kills his wife in defense of the new cat due to this pure hatred of his previous cat. What is particularly interesting is the ending of the story. Despite having a clear path to getting away with murdering his wife, Poe’s character was compelled to show off his ingenuity to the police. Did that one action show inner guilt on his part, or was it just an oversight?

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