Edgar Allan Poe Romanticism Essay

This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples.

Cite this essay cite-image

Edgar Allan Poe occupies a unique position in American Literature. He delves headfirst into the nature of the subconscious in his short stories and leads readers by the hand into the heart of the human psyche and unfurls it to them. Poe deals with paranoia in his supernatural fiction – a paranoia deeply founded in human psychology. Feverish dreams and the unseen are his sources of horrific inspiration. The early notions of Gothic are synonymous with “explained supernatural” which means that there was strict adherence to form and the conscious application of horror or supernatural elements to a novel.

Gothic refers to a varied range of overlapping senses: horrid, barbarous, and superstitious. Abhik Maiti writes in Writing, as a Mysterious Cat: a Critical Evaluation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher states, “Gothic tales initially, had a predominant disposition to infuse their readers with an element of terror which however changed with the gradual onset of modernity and Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis as the once gloomy castles with its meandering labyrinth of corridors of the Gothic novels gradually came to signify the darker region of the human psyche.”(3) Let’s consider Freud’s take on the Gothic novel – or more importantly his massive contribution to understanding the complex nature of the human psyche, a theme rampantly prevalent in the works of Gothic fiction.

Save your time!
We can take care of your essay
  • Proper editing and formatting
  • Free revision, title page, and bibliography
  • Flexible prices and money-back guarantee
Place an order

Freud postulates that “horror is (not) connected to what he calls ‘intellectual uncertainty’. Instead, he introduces the notion that the whole structure and mood of horror fiction is a projection, in heavily codified form, of deeply instinctual drives in the unconscious mind. He accounts for the recurrent motifs of this kind of fiction by seeing them, Ahmed 27 not as a literary device, but as a projection of what he calls ‘repetitions and compulsions’ – the primary activity of the pleasure principle which drives us compulsively to repeat experiences which we find pleasurable” (Maiti, 3). This co-existence of conflicting drives and juxtaposing elements is known as ‘The Notion of Double’. ‘The Notion of Double’ is rooted in the philosophical, literary as well scientific theories of German Romanticism.

According to the historical background, ‘The Notion of Double’ shows the romantic poet's struggle to go beyond his existence and reach the infinite – an intangible realm. In Romantic literature, the double functioned as a bridge of sorts attempting to mend the gap between ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ or it seeks to express the sublime – a longing for spiritual and mystical unity. The motif of the double also lent itself to the interest in supernatural or unexplained phenomena and the exploration of the subconscious. Given this, The Romantic poet, therefore, employed the motif of the double as the chance to investigate the passions and illnesses of the human mind and to examine the presence of a supernatural world. Before Romanticism, ‘the notion of double’ was employed for comedic purposes in plots dealing with cases of mistaken identity. It is with the onset of Romanticism, that the ‘notion of the double’ was implemented for a deeper understanding of psychology by endowing it with the meaning of the admonishing angel, the tenacious devil, or the good repressed ego. As stated above, the double or the doppelganger emerged in German Romanticism and was devised for comedic purposes. It is in American Romanticism, especially in the tantalizingly horrific tales of Edgar Allan Poe that the double took on a sinister air and was used to explore the depths of depravation in the human psyche with a strong correlation to the manifestation of Ahmed's 28 supernatural forces. A prominent feature of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic fiction is the portrayal of a foe in the form of a doppelganger.

In Poe’s fiction, the doppelganger appears as an apparitional counterpart to a living person. We see this in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, where the protagonist of the story resonates deeply with the antagonist. Writing, as a Mysterious Cat: a Critical Evaluation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher states, “The idea of the protagonist fighting a counterpart occurs so often in Poe’s works that critics often suggest that it indicates Poe’s attempts to work out, through his writings, his inner conflicts and psychological struggles.” (Maiti, 13) “The Tell-Tale Heart” follows an unnamed narrator who at the very beginning comments on his mental state of being saying, “True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” which immediately brings into question the sanity of the narrator.

Poe sets up the narrator in a manner where readers are confronted with the unreliability of her overassurance regarding their mental well-being. The story has a recurring motif – the narrator’s constant identification with the old man. Throughout the story, there are countless times the narrator mentions that he is aware of how the old man feels. The eerily aware narrator claims to know the nature of the groans emanating from the old man, going so far as to confirm that he too has experienced these groans – not of pain or sadness – but of mortal terror. The narrator says, “It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when the entire world slept, it has welled up from my bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt” (“Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe”, 3) Ahmed 29 The unreliable narrator keenly resonates with the old man’s emotions showing how equal of a footing the two share – almost as if they are the same person. The protagonist never presents a rational comprehensible reason for his motivation for wanting to murder the old man. Instead, he narrows it down to the old man’s pale blue eyes. The narrator muses “I think it was his eye! Yes. It was this!” as if trying to convince himself of his true intention. His repetition suggests uncertainty and also alludes to the need to transfer his misguided impulses onto an object.

Abhik Maiti interprets “the ‘‘eye’’ not as an organ of vision but as the homonym of ‘‘I.’’ Thus, what the narrator ultimately wants to destroy is the self, and he succumbs to this urge when he can no longer contain his overwhelming sense of guilt.” (13) Another of Poe’s tales that is emblematic of the doppelganger is the story of “William Wilson”. In “William Wilson”, Poe dramatizes the power of dark unconsciousness. This tale serves as an allegory for the doppelganger. Shu-ting Kao explores the doppelganger phenomena in her paper A Dark Unconscious in Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” using “Freud’s theory of going beyond the pleasure principle. Further, to illustrate the tension between the ego and alter-ego, and thus the conflict between them, I focus on Gothic space as a metaphor for the dark unconscious of our minds.” (1) In the tradition of Dark Romanticism, features of the dark unconscious include madness, horror, an inexplicable sense of guilt, and the eventual triumph of evil – seen commonly in Poe’s tales.

In “William Wilson” the double is also named William Wilson. The two cross paths during childhood while in school. Every time Wilson noticed a similarity or resemblance with his doppelganger, it served as fuel to his fire. He realized they “were of the same age, but I saw that we were of the same height, and I perceived that we were even singularly alike in general contour of person and outline of feature.” (Poe 358) Wilson was convinced that his double was Ahmed 30 imitating him on purpose. The double donned the same clothes.

He was similar even in the manner of walking and speaking. However, a distinct difference between the two – the double could not speak above a whisper. Kao explains that “William Wilson” is a dramatic representation of the dark unconsciousness of the self. The haunting of the second William Wilson is a reference to the condemned, predetermined genealogy and also the protagonist’s quiet desire for reunion with his phantom self – or death. The tale “William Wilson” shines light on the disturbances experienced in the psyche due to an unresolved conflict between the ego and the alter-ego. It also showcases “the Self’s plunge into the abyss due to the unconscious desire for death.” (A Dark Unconscious in Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson”, 3) It is frequently suggested that Poe is attempting to reconcile a conflicted sense of self through his stories.

“William Wilson” is highly suggestive of this, given that he “is a descendant of a race whose imaginative and easily excitable temperament has at all times rendered them remarkable; and in my earliest infancy. I gave evidence of having fully inherited the family character. As I advanced in years, it was more strongly developed; becoming for many reasons, a cause of serious disquietude to my friends, and positive injury to myself.” (Poe, 352) William Wilson’s perverse tendency is related to the universal narrative of the soul’s tendency toward destruction. Wilson’s uncanny feeling about his alter ego entangles him with emotional disturbance. Wilson’s primary encounter with his alter ego happens in Dr. Bransby’s school. The second William Wilson leaves an impression of “sarcastic imitation” on William Wilson when he appears in the school as his classmate (Poe 357). Not only do they share a resemblance in their appearance, but they also have the same “congeniality in their tempers.” They are “the most inseparable of companions.” Nevertheless, William Wilson’s feelings Ahmed 31 towards “the twin” are “petulant animosity” and uneasy “fear” due to the alter ego’s immoral superiority over him (Poe 359).

Because of the complicated nature of his feelings towards this alter ego, William Wilson consciously avoids any occasion where the two might have to share the same space. The narrator confesses that there exists a substantial sense of intimacy between him and the second William Wilson. Like the unreliable narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, William Wilson expresses a sense of familiarity with his doppelganger. The doppelganger in William Wilson rears its head when Wilson is mercilessly succumbing to his vices. Kao gives an explanation positing that the antagonism between the doubles reaches its climax when William Wilson is in attendance at a masquerade in Rome, where he intends to seduce the young wife of a Duke - the host of the masquerade.

The first William Wilson is intensely irritated upon discovering the intrusion of his doppelganger, the second William Wilson lays charges on him for being a “scoundrel”, “impostor” and “accursed villain”. Irked beyond reason, the first William Wilson proceeds to drag his doppelganger into an adjoining room and plunges a sword into his chest. “In the last scene before the death of the second William Wilson (Poe 418), William Wilson glimpses the final image of the alter ego in the mirror in which the feeble and dying William Wilson astonishes him since he discovers that he is killing himself” (5). Kao offers for explanation: The second William Wilson, the specter in the tale, is the personification of conscience, who steers the passions of William Wilson to approach death. The Self, haunted by his conscience, tries to escape supervision, domination, and accusation. As he kills the conscience “I,” he kills himself at the same time since the second William Wilson is his double, inseparable from him.

The conscience Ahmed 32 dies; there is no hope for him to have spiritual rest in Heaven. The last scene is thus the triumph of evil as the Self dies in the reunion of the double. (6) Poe’s use of the doppelganger in his tales more often than not highlights two aspects; (i) The protagonist is a victim of the double which is the case of a stolen identity being carried out by a supernatural presence or the working of a hallucinating mind, (ii) the split personality of the protagonist. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” we can see the usage of the doppelganger as the workings of a hallucinating mind and in “William Wilson”, we are treated to the monstrous, repressed, and perverse alter-ego of a protagonist already prone to emotional excitements and harboring a “genealogical” tendency to be uncouth and destructive.

In his story, Ligeia Poe brings about female pairs of doubles, where the ghost of dark and mysterious Ligeia possesses the sweet and unassuming body of the blonde and innocent Lady Rowena. The tale of Ligeia is also a striking implement of “intellectual uncertainty” brought about by the unreliable narrator.

Lady Ligeia is defined by her indomitable will as suggested by the epigraph by Joseph Glanvill. Miriam Fernández-Santiago posits a psychoanalytical reading that leads to the typical psychomachia between the doubling vicious id and its hosting virtuous ego (Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative Use of Literary Doubling, 5). Poe begins the tale of Ligiea with an unnamed narrator who opens the story trying to recall where he first encountered the fiery, strong-willed, and passionate Lady Ligeia. The narrator is consumed by his need to describe the essence of his beloved, saying how “she came and departed like a shadow”, and the countenances of her beauty were like the “radiance of an opium dream”.

The unreliability of our narrator starts becoming clear as he tries his hardest to conjure up the perfect analogy to Ahmed 33 describing his lover’s eyes. The narrator says, “We often find ourselves upon the verge of remembrance, without being able in the end, to remember” (Poe, 38) The attempt the narrator makes in trying to capture the elusive tantalizing mystery of his lover’s eyes evokes Burke’s idea of the sublime, where the eyes are beyond any comprehensible comparison with anything tangible, rather it incites a feeling of wonderment and is a cause for intense rumination on the narrator’s part. He tries to describe the exquisiteness of his lover’s eyes, which were larger than an ordinary pair of eyes. It was not the color or shape of Ligeia’s eyes that arrested the narrator, rather it was their expression. When looking into her eyes, the narrator is reminded of Glanville’s quote. As the story progresses, Ligeia grows ill causing the narrator to become wildly morose when she eventually dies.

After the demise of his beloved, our narrator moves to England where he marries the tame-natured Lady Rowena. The narrator drowns himself in his opium addiction and gives himself to intense imagination dreaming that Leigia is back from the dead and alive. The setting of the abbey he procures is situated in a remote, unfrequented part of England, further intensifying the horrific air of the story. The narrator is preoccupied with one room in particular – the bridal chamber which Poe describes in minute detail. Expansive and pentagonal, on one side of the room is an immense window and the sun and moon gleaming into the room casts a “ghastly luster”. The eeriest aspect of the room’s design is the “gigantic sarcophagus” which lends to the ominous essence of the tale.

Another element that adds to the spooky nature of the tale is the strong gusts of wind blowing in through the windows causing the tapestries to move, completing the nightmarish and frightening experience. Lady Rowena is seen as being afraid of her husband, who is severely ill-tempered and remains in an opium-induced haze. Our unreliable narrator delights in the fact that Lady Rowena Ahmed 34 finds him frightening. He harbors hate for her that makes him wish that her existence was obliterated. The nightmarish quality of the tale deepens when Lady Rowena is taken ill by an undescribed sickness, which is only worsened by her perceiving sounds and shapes around the room that are not visible. One night, Lady Rowena is awakened from an uneasy sleep and is unusually frightened and distressed. Our narrator finds himself terrified of her appearance as she seems frail and deathly. He ignores the illness-induced rambling whispers of Lady Rowena noting that the blowing tapestry does give the appearance of shadowy figures pacing in the room. The unnamed unreliable narrator admits to being in an opium haze and subjects him to experiencing an intangible presence in his current drug-addled state.

He admits to himself that he does perceive a shadow that could very well be the shadow of something unseen, but he keeps this sliver of information to himself. Giving Rowena a glass of wine to settle her nerves, our narrator gives himself away to intense fantasies of his deceased lover Ligeia. In his addled state, the narrator watches Lady Rowena’s deceased body, seeing it become animated as her cheeks become flushed and he hears a low moan, only to see that the body is worse for wear. This occurrence repeats a few times, till the narrator feels sure that Lady Rowena has indeed passed, calling her a “tenant of the tomb”.

However, as morning dawns, the dead body seems to be full of life inciting terrible fear in the narrator. Believing that he is dreaming, the narrator watches riveted with fear as the once-dead body of Rowena is suddenly animated with life, and this causes wild thoughts to rush through his frenzied mind. “Could it indeed be the living Rowena who confronted me? Could it indeed be Rowena at all – the fair-haired, blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine? Why, why should I doubt it? (Poe, 54) The narrator finds himself captivated by the moving shape of Lady Rowena and when the cerement which was Ahmed 35 covering her face and head fell off it revealed hair “which was blacker than the raven wings of the midnight!” (Poe, 54), and the narrator notes the eyes which are “the full, and the black, and the wild eyes – of (his) lost love – of the Lady – of the Lady Ligiea” (Poe, 54) The unsettling nature of the story is brought about by the uncertainty of the narrator, who refuses to be in a sober state of mind. He is given to flights of fancies which is heightened by his obsession with Ligiea. Whether Ligeia comes alive or not is a matter of speculation, since readers are made aware from the beginning of the narrator’s preoccupation with opium. Freud refers to the effect of the uncanny arising from “uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton; and to do it in such a way that his attention is not directly focused upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be urged to go into the matter and clear it up immediately, since that, as we have said, would quickly dissipate the peculiar emotional effect of the thing.” (Freud, 5). Edgar Allan Poe deftly employs conditions for awakening uncanny sensations, and this is created when there is intellectual uncertainty about whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one as witnessed by the apparent revival of Lady Ligeia. ?

Make sure you submit a unique essay

Our writers will provide you with an essay sample written from scratch: any topic, any deadline, any instructions.

Cite this paper

Edgar Allan Poe Romanticism Essay. (2024, February 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/edgar-allan-poe-romanticism-essay/
“Edgar Allan Poe Romanticism Essay.” Edubirdie, 29 Feb. 2024, edubirdie.com/examples/edgar-allan-poe-romanticism-essay/
Edgar Allan Poe Romanticism Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/edgar-allan-poe-romanticism-essay/> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
Edgar Allan Poe Romanticism Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2024 Feb 29 [cited 2024 Jul 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/edgar-allan-poe-romanticism-essay/

Join our 150k of happy users

  • Get original paper written according to your instructions
  • Save time for what matters most
Place an order

Fair Use Policy

EduBirdie considers academic integrity to be the essential part of the learning process and does not support any violation of the academic standards. Should you have any questions regarding our Fair Use Policy or become aware of any violations, please do not hesitate to contact us via support@edubirdie.com.

Check it out!
search Stuck on your essay?

We are here 24/7 to write your paper in as fast as 3 hours.