Literature is a popular form of entertainment. People everywhere enjoy the unique aspect of literature. Many writers use inspiration to write their work, but what inspires them? Many people may think that ideas come to writers naturally. Although, writers have to get their ideas from somewhere. Most of which are experiences and their personal thoughts. In the case of Edgar Allan Poe, his writings were inspired by his tragic life, the time period he lived in, and his dysfunctional brain. Edgar Allan Poe was affected tremendously by his tragic life.
Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. His father left around the same time the Poe was born, and a few years later, he experienced the death of his mother. According to Leonard Unger, "Poe's mother's death shaped his life (Unger 1079)." Poe and his two other siblings were all separated, and he was later taken in by John and Frances Allan.
Growing up Poe tried to make his foster father proud of him. He attended the University of Virginia then went to the U.S Military Academy at West Point. Poe deliberately went to West Point only to please John. During this time, Poe enlisted in the army. Also during this time, Poe's foster mother died, leaving him to experience another death of a loved one.
In the mean time, Poe's foster father remarried and had a son of his own, completely disowning Poe and ignoring his cries for help. In retaliation, Poe purposely got himself kicked out of the school his foster father enjoyed by misbehaving. This experience explains a little on how Poe's life affected him. He was separated from him family and his foster father no longer cared for him. Poe felt loneliness, abandonment, and anger due to how he was treated by his guardians. Poe then left West Point and moved to Baltimore, where he lived with his father's sister and her daughter, Virginia.
About a year later Poe, at age eighteen, married his cousin Virginia Clemm, age 13. Poe began to publish his work in 1827, and by 1831 he had published three small volumes. He took a variety of jobs and landed one as an editor in Richmond. Outside of his job he wrote poetry and short stories. A few years later he had experienced the death of his wife, Virginia. The death of his loved one was caused by tuberculosis and Poe was distraught.
Edgar had continued on with his poetry and began writing stories based on his tragic life. The stories included personal gossip about his former friends, and everything that happened to Poe in his life- death, abandonment, and loss. All of which may be explained in this paragraph about how Poe obtained the themes of his writings. His work is "associated with horror stories (Liukkonen)." Poe released pain in his work. So much happened to him in this life, that it is almost impossible for him not to gain inspiration by these experiences. However, it was not just people that affected Poe's writings; it was also the time he lived in.
During the time that Edgar Allan Poe lived, 1809-1849, American readers had an appetite for revenge. They were eager to see what would happen after the story hit a high point. Revenge was a thriller and was something unexpected to the readers during this time. Poe gave readers what they wanted and included revenge in many of his works. Poe is the most famous writer in the style of Dark Romanticism. No matter what he wrote he had darkness, gloomy settings, revenge, violence, confusion and mysteries. Also, the people in his works were the same way- mysterious, odd and usually bizarre. He was extremely influenced by the Gothic tradition. The Gothic tradition of writing had made its way into stories, novels and poetry. It is a work that contains violent actions, gloomy settings and an atmosphere of decay. Gothic literature was the type of theme that gave birth to other forms of mystery, suspense and even ghost stories. This was because Gothic literature mainly focused on the darker side of the imagination and the odd aspects of life. Poe's favorite type of Gothic tale was "tale of sensation." In this type on tale the characters described their sensations while on the verge of death. "Poe took full advantage of this influence, as his short stories are some of the best examples of this form of writing (Moss)."
The Cask of Amontillado followed this trend of sensationalism and horror. This story described what may have been the perfect crime. In the carnival season during this story was a celebration which included parties, feasts and parades. Montresor was insulted by Fortunato, a wine connoisseur. Montresor ran into Fortunato on the street during the carnival season and told him about this famous Spanish wine he has called, Amontillado. Fortunato was already drunk and agreed to go with Montresor to taste it. Montresor then led Fortunato into a small room in his underground catacomb where his wine was stored. He then chained up Fortunato and began to wall up the entrance to the room. Montresor's plan was to punish Fortunate by murdering him and escaping the consequences for murder himself. This story ends containing many unanswered questions.
Other writers have written violent revenge tales before Poe, but his was so fascinating because it was a psychological tale. Also, at that time that it was written the workings of the criminal mind was very noteworthy. The revenge of the burial of a living man was chosen to fill reader's appetites and was the main focus in The Cask of Amontillado. In this particular story of his is a great example of a rule that Poe always followed which was to avoid excess. He chose specific words and used specific details to make the readers understand clearly but also fill them with questions. Poe once wrote that "the truest and surest test of originality is the manner of handling a hackneyed subject." Poe's originality was definitely put to the test when he wrote "The Cask of Amontillado." During Poe's time, that is exactly what readers wanted in their stories- mystery and violence. "The Cask of Amontillado" fit that perfectly. Poe was able to satisfy the readers of his time and inspired many other writers.
Edgar Allan Poe had a very peculiar mind and was known for his mental conditions. He was an alcoholic and a drug addict. He was famous for his unanswered questions in his stories. He always chose certain words for his stories, leaving some out which caused confusion to his readers and wonder. When words are left out of stories, it makes them extremely unclear and hard to understand and that is exactly what Poe's stories were, very unclear. "He believed ideas and details should be chosen carefully (Moss)." Poe was a notorious alcoholic, but was determined to stop drinking because he realized the harm it was doing to him.
"He invented the horror story (Rodowsky 75)." Poe wrote intense and melancholy works that had a huge affect on other poets. Poe was also very talented for writing detective stories and the annual awards of the Mystery Writers of American is named after Poe. According to Rodowsky "Poe was perhaps the finest critical mind of his generation (Rodowsky)." Poe was also considered the master of the Gothic tale. The Gothic tale, as mentioned, was a story that consisted of gloomy settings and violence. The Gothic heroes were often suffering from illnesses, isolated from the world, mental disturbance and troubled memory. All of these which link to an explanation of Poe's life, mind and writings.
Poe once said, "The dead are not simply alive but too alive; the problem is keeping them buried." Most of Poe's works reveals fascination with death; this could be because of the ones he lost due to death. The reason for one of Poe's poems was to prevent the dead from returning. Poe once said that young children who lose their parents sometimes deny "the permanence of ... loss because among other things, [they]...Cannot comprehend the finality of death (Rodowsky 76)." This shows the effect the death of his mother and foster mother and abandonment of his father and foster father had on his life. He is also holding on to the death of his wife, Virginia. Therefore, he associated his life in his stories because in his mind and in reality he can't let go of his experiences.
The famous Edgar Allan Poe wrote incredible pieces of work that entertained people during his time period and today alike. Like many other writers, Poe got his inspiration from his life and the experiences he had growing up. This gave him a new outlook on the world around him. On the other hand, Edgar Allan Poe was also influenced by the time period in which he lived. Readers learned exactly who Edgar Allan Poe was in stories. They longed for the violence, the revenge and the mystery. All of which Poe put in his writings. His tragic life and the time period in which he lived in both had a huge impact on who Edgar Allan Poe is and his mind. The impact it had on his mind is what made Poe's writings and what influenced him to write them. Edgar Allan Poe was quite an interesting writer. Many thought he had a twisted mind because of how his writings were, yet others found his writings fascinating. The works of Edgar Allan Poe are still well known and enjoyed by people all over the world for his unique theme of writing. His works could not be compared because of Poe's particular way of writing his stories. People everywhere know Poe and automatically think of his works and their styles. Therefore, Edgar Allan Poe will always be known and remembered for his writings.
Dumas, Malone. Dictionary of American Biography. New York:Charles Scrbner's Sons, 1937.
Liukkonen, Petri. Edgar Allan Poe. 2008. 21 February 2011.
Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Literature and Its Times. Vol.2. Detroit: Gale, 1997..
Rodowsky, Colby, and Gloria Miklowitz. Young Adult Authors. Vol.6.
Unger, Leonard, and A.W.Litz. American Writers. Vol.3. 1961.1079.
Dumas, Malone. Dictionary of American Biography. New York:Charles Scrbner's Sons, 1937.