Edgar Allan Poe
The theme of darkness and sadness is widely present in most works written by Edgar Allan Poe. It is worth noting that his personal life had always influenced his works. For instance, the misfortunes that took away what he loved and valued most in his life contributed significantly to this theme of darkness and sadness. In addition, his relations with a foster father and failed military career also played a vital role in his works. In essence, his life experiences are directly related to the theme. Poe’s life, in particular the loss of the loved ones and living with a foster father played an instrumental role in shaping his theme.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809 to David and Elizabeth Poe, who were both actors. He is a respected American writer, editor and literary critic (Hayes 6). Poe was the second child of David and Elizabeth. He had two other siblings, a brother Henry and a younger sister Rosalie. At an early age of two, his life changed drastically due to his father’s abandonment of his family and death of his mother. His siblings went to live with relatives while he was taken in by John Allan and his wife. It was while living with the couple that he received his middle name Allan, however, he was never officially adopted by John Allan (Hayes 12). At the age of six Poe started school in England. He stayed there for five years and studied Latin, French, Math and History. After his education and a failed career in the military, Poe pursued his passion as a writer and wrote poetry and short stories.
Poe has received a lot of recognition for transforming a short story from a mere anecdote into an art. Additionally, he is known as the inventor of detective stories and science fiction. But it is his talent for writing horror stories that made him highly recognized as an author. He is credited with laying the foundation of modern horror, which combined intensely psychological issues with gothic elements and thus created stories that were considered extremely horrific and frightened his readers (Poe Museum). For instance, some of his stories portray the dead coming to life and the living dying in the most grotesque ways. Some of these works include The Raven, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Premature Burial and The Haunted Palace.
Personal Life and the Theme of Darkness and Sadness
Poe’s life was based on a number of misfortunes that took away the things and people that he valued and loved the most. This resulted in him becoming sad, miserable and ultimately depressed. It is these misfortunes in his life that made him write works that were sad and dark in nature (Harris). One of them was his rough childhood. His father abandoned them, leaving his mother with three young children. For many people abandonment gives rise to feelings of self-pity and depression. Poe was not an exception. Secondly, his mother died shortly after that, making the feeling of abandonment increase in young Poe. Despite taking him in, John Allan did not officially adopt Poe. This factor may have made him feel unwanted and unloved. Finally, when he was taken in by the Allans, he was separated from his siblings. Negative emotions that were brought about as a result of all these factors may have caused him to turn to writing sad and dark themed stories as a way of expressing his pain, confusion and perhaps anger.
Another event that might have made him focus on writing sad and dark works was his relationship with his foster father. John Allan was a miserly man who sent Poe to University, giving him very little money, so he could hardly sustain his living there (Hayes 18). This forced Poe to start gambling in a bid to get money to sustain a living, which ultimately made him go into debt. Further, his lack of interest in business and love for writing was not supported by John Allan, who proffered Poe going to school and helping him in running his business.
Poe’s failed military career could have also stimulated his unique and creepy style of writing. Another life failure occurred when his childhood sweetheart Elmira Royster left him and married another man. He wanted to really succeed in this relationship, but unfortunately everything seemed to work against him. This must have made him feel humiliated and once again the feeling of being abandoned must have crept in. Therefore, the best way to express this disappointment was through dark sad themes in his stories.
The other things that could have made Edgar Allan Poe write horrendous stories and poetry was the deaths of his wife and foster mother, Frances Allan. Although he was not close with his foster father John Allan, he developed a deep affection for his foster mother (Poe Museum). When she died, Poe was devastated. Once again this made him feel alone. In 1836 he married Virginia, who became the joy of his life (Poe Museum). Her death after a struggle with tuberculosis left him shuttered and thoroughly heartbroken. His sad and melancholy poem “Annabel Lee” is believed to have been written about her. Further, Virginia was his inspiration for the bloody story The Masque of Red Death. The bloody nature of the story can be connected with Virginia’s hemorrhaging lungs while suffering from tuberculosis. The plot of the story further highlights Poe’s reference to tuberculosis. The plot of this story is a county haunted by a lethal affliction called the Red Death that quickly spreads across the country and which made those who caught it be quarantined. Poe’s description of this plague is similar to tuberculosis, proving that his horrific works are linked with his life experiences.
Further, most of these misfortunes led him to turn to drugs and alcohol. He wrote some of his gothic stories under the influence of drugs. It is common knowledge that drugs and other hard substances tend to cause hallucinations. Therefore, Poe may just have been writing down these hallucinations, which caused him see sinister and macabre characters that led to creation of deranged stories. Further, it was also said that Poe described his nightmares in some of these stories. It can also be said that Edgar Allan Poe’s initial failure in writing may have caused him to turn to writing ghastly works as a way of capturing the attention of readers. He only managed to survive thanks to writing, but he was not making much money of it (Hayes 23).
Some Poe’s horror stories involve the dead coming to life (Pakditawan 37). This may be a reflection of his wish that the women he loved most were back to life. He may be longing for his mother Elizabeth, foster mother Frances and his beloved wife. The death of Poe’s mother and wife can be seen in his works as the underlying theme of death of beautiful young women. For instance, his works The Fall of the House of Usher and The Oval Portrait show the death of young, beautiful and innocent full of life women that happens in a strange and horrible manner. This shows clearly that Poe relates to the death of his mother and wife, who were both young women full of life. Therefore, it proves that tragedies in the writer’s life influenced his development of a gothic writing style.
On the other hand, those people whom he kills in such a horrendous ways may represent the people he is bitter and angry with, like his foster father Allan and all the people in life who treated him badly. For example, in the story The Cask of Amontillado Montresor plans to kill Fortunato and says that he must not just punish him but rather do so with impunity (Poe 19). He may not be able to make them pay in real life but he can do whatever he wants to them in his imagination, which is expressed on paper. All in all, all these dark events in Edgar Allan Poe’s life can be a reason for his adaptation of a unique gothic, horrendous and scary writing style.
Writers’ works are to some extent affected by their life experiences. As for Edgar Allan Poe, his horror and ghastly tales based on dark and sad themes were influenced by his life experiences and in particular misfortunes that befell him and made his life depressing. These misfortunes made him eccentric to the society and unable to find any other way of expressing what he felt except for retelling his struggles in writing. Perhaps, calculated and ghastly deaths, horrific images and imagination helped Poe cope with his tragedies in the course of writing quality works.