Edgar Allan Poe: the Alcoholic Writer Essay
Edgar Allan Poe: The Alcoholic Writer Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of America’s most influential writers. Some people refer to him as the “Father of the American detective story” (Giordano 2005). His stories are thrilling and full of death, insanity, and darkness, which caused Americans to see a different side of the Romantic genre in literature. Many suggest that the reason behind Poe’s eerie tales was his alcoholism. Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of David and Elizabeth Poe, who were both actors. When Poe was one-year old, his father abandoned him and his mother.
However, he died shortly after. One year later, his mother died of tuberculosis. Since Poe was left an orphan, he informally adopted by the John and Frances Allan, who were wealthy tobacco merchants (Giordano 2005). He attended good schools in Richmond, Virginia and enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1826 (Giordano 2005). Although, Poe seemed like the ideal son and student, John Allan never seemed to fully accept him. He treated Poe coldly and always pushed him to excel and do more with his life. In college, Poe accumulated gambling debts that ultimately led to his disownment from the Allan house (Giordano 2005).
As a result, Poe was expelled from the University of Virginia and joined the Army in 1827 (Giordano 2005). However, he was discharged after two years and reconciled with John Allan. Then Poe was enrolled in West Point Military Academy, but Poe did not stay long because he was known to disobey orders (Giordano 2005). Poe’s bizarre behavior and heavy drinking was not apparent until his mid-twenties. His change came from the sudden disownment from his foster father and many childhood troubles he had faced. Poe never felt true acceptance from his foster father.
Poe seemed to go through a pattern when John Allan would try and help him out. Hence, Poe began to distance himself more and more from his foster father and other people. Soon after his dismissal from West Point, Poe moved in with his aunt and soon after married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia (Giordano 2005). Virginia died in 1847 from tuberculosis, which eventually led Poe into a downward spiral until his death (Giordano 2005). During his wife’s illness, Poe would have binges and times of completely sobriety. Ultimately, Poe weakness to alcohol was so strong he could no longer suppress it.
Traces of alcoholism are obvious in many of Poe’s stories. However, The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado are among the most popular. These stories can be interpreted on many different levels because everyone has his or her own perspective on things. For instance, some people many not even believe these stories are linked to Poe’s addictions. However, the public knows Poe was an alcoholic and some believe that usually people will not imagine such eerie tales without the help of substances. The Black Cat seems to be darker version of The Tell-Tale Heart.
However, in this tale, Poe gives the conscience a physical form. The Cask of Amontillado, on the other hand, is a disturbing tale of revenge told as a deathbed confession. Superficially, these stories could just be inspired by Poe’s subconscious. However, one must pay close attention to the words and phrases of choice while keeping in mind what could have inspired these bizarre tales. Poe was alienated himself from the world and took on writing, which is a lonely profession. Therefore, one can assume he could of used writing as a type of self-therapy (Fisher 1978).
Almost every piece of literature reveals an aspect of the author’s personality and emotions. For instance, Poe went through many unfortunate events in his life. His experienced loss at a young age and his wife and mother both died of the same illness. Hence, he could of started using alcohol to escape reality and his worries. During The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado the narrators attempts to suppress their alcoholism. However, in The Cask of Amontillado the narrator was successful but in The Black Cat alcohol is victories and the narrator’s life is destroyed.
Both of these stories mirror different periods of time in Poe’s life and his attempts to overcome his alcoholism. The Black Cat tells a story about the evils of alcohol. At first, the narrator seemed to be kind and gentle to animals but with the aid of alcohol he became a vicious monster that beats and kills harmless animals. The narrator began my cutting out Pluto’s eye, while under the influence of alcohol and physically abused his wife as his alcoholism increased. One drunken night, he was trying to catch the cat and beat him, but ended up killing his wife in the process. His alcoholism turned the narrator into a remorseless murder.
In other words, alcohol not only caused the narrator to destroy everything he knew and loved but ended with his self-destruction (Fisher 1978). The narrator in the story starts telling his tale as a confession; however, he is only blaming his alcoholism for his crimes. At the beginning of the story he states how there were “household events” that have “destroyed” him (Poe, The Black Cat 1843). Then he explains how his temperament changed the more he consumed alcohol. However, after every cruel act he stated that his “soul remained untouched” and he clearly he felt no guilt for his actions (Poe, The Black Cat 1843).
After murdering his wife, he still had no remorse. He describes the cat’s scream as demonic and blames the cat for his wife’s murder because “the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder” (Poe, The Black Cat 1843). Clearly, in the story alcohol is called a demon. It is depicted as “the Fiend Intemperance” (Poe, The Black Cat 1843). The narrator described the “fury demon” that possessed him as a “gin- nurtured fiendish malevolence” (Poe, The Black Cat 1843). In other words, one can assume that the narrator believes alcohol is a demon that possesses man.
He sees that demon inside himself and blames the murder and his downfall on a demon. The Black Cat exposes some alcoholic characteristics. For instance, the fact that he refuses to take responsibility for his actions and only sees the harm that has happened to him. Overall, The Black Cat is a story about a man being ruined by alcoholism, “an unshakable demon that haunts him no matter how hard he tries to escape its grasp, no matter how hard he tries to suppress the urges of his alcoholism” (Poe, The Black Cat 1843). One can see how the alcohol takes his humanity and the narrator continues to commit worse acts very time.
He tries to hide it, but he cannot surpass the demon. Therefore, he feels like he is fighting a supernatural power. No matter how often the narrator tried to kill the cat and how deeply he buries it, it always came back to hunt him. The Cask of Amontillado is a tale full of puns and double meanings. It seems to have been written almost as a joke underlining alcoholism. Although, Montresor never drank, Fortuna died because of his excessive drinking. In other words, Fortuna is the victim of his own alcoholism, which shows that alcohol can ruin one’s life.
Fortuna represented the physical manifestation of the narrator’s alcoholism, which he finally triumphed over and suppressed. It is obvious that Montresor and often mirror one another (Patterson 1992). Both characters usually echo each other’s words. Both men have similarities. For instance, they are both very wealthy and come from old families. It is ironic how Montresor is the name for a fine Italian wine and Fortuna is defined by wine (Patterson 1992). Fortuna is dressed as a fool, while Montresor is dressed in a black mask, which resembles as an executioner. Fortuna is drunk and continues to drink while Montresor stays sober.
Montresor calls Fortuna happy while claiming he was unhappy, implying this unhappiness was caused by the “thousand injuries”. One can see how Fortuna’s alcoholism causes his downfall. Even though he could have saved himself many times, his love for alcohol literally killed him. In general, The Cask of Amontillado makes the most sense when interpreted as a story about the narrator conquering alcoholism. Alcohol made the narrator act foolish and gave him thousand of injuries. The narrator decided to conquer his alcoholism and burying it with his relatives in the crypt.
As a result, he goes on to live a long and happy life. As Fortuna represented Montresor’s alcoholism, the cat in The Black Cat represents the narrator’s alcoholism. Although, Poe uses the cat to represent different aspects of the narrator throughout the story, it is the representation that becomes important to the meaning of his work. The narrator loses his love for his other pets and his only love becomes alcohol. Throughout the story, the cat bites the narrator without causing harm like it was giving him warnings, however, the narrator got angry and started maiming the cat while he was drunk.
Hurting the cat only makes the narrator feel worse until he hangs the cat. Using the cat as representation of alcoholism, the narrator realizes his addict is getting stronger and tries to cut back but only ends up feeling worse. Then he then tries to end his alcoholism all together. However, this only leads to more feeling Since the pain is too much for him to handle, he needs either the cat or the alcohol back in his life, even though, it will not make thinks better. He ends up bring a new cat home, which he found in a tavern.
Bringing the cat/alcohol home gives it power over the narrator while appearing innocent. The cat, being the wife’s favorite, reminds the narrator of what he once was and what he no longer has. It also brings back all of the guilty associations over the original cat, Pluto. To further understanding The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado one must look at Poe’s use of the words “eye” and “eyes. ” Poe often uses “eye” or “eyes” to mean the conscience (Patterson 1992). He also uses the terms to refer to the “all-seeing eye of God. The idea of behind his use of the word is that the eye is seen as the window to the soul. In The Black Cat the use of “eye” as the conscience is obvious, however, it could also be interpreted differently. Another way that “eye” is used goes back to the mythology of Western Europe. In Western European pagan mythology many gods and sorcerers have only one eye, usually because they gave up an eye to gain knowledge (Fisher 1978). The black cat only having one eye makes it stand out even more as an evil spirit. The cat’s eye is also the all-seeing eye.
The narrator committed every crime under its stare, and therefore the owner of the eye brought down divine retribution on the narrator. The use of the word “eye” is appears less in The Cask of Amontillado, however, its meaning is still very significant. Shortly after following Montresor into the catacombs Fortuna looks into Montresor’s “eyes with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication” (Poe, The Cask of Amontillado 1846). After drinking the first bottle of Medoc,“the wine sparkled in his eyes” (Poe, The Cask of Amontillado 1846).
After consuming the second bottle of Bordeaux, Fortuna’s “eyes flashed with a fierce light” (Poe, The Cask of Amontillado 1846). In other words, the more he drank the more of a light came into his eyes. For Fortuna the eyes represent the window to the soul of the alcoholic, he comes alive only with drink. Since Fortuna is the mirror image of Montresor he hated in himself, we can see Fortuna as Montresor’s alcoholic tendencies, which he is trying to overcome. Both stories are about alcoholism, yet they have contradictory conclusions because they are linked with the role of alcohol in Poe’s life.
Poe did not start off as a constant consumer of alcohol. However, there were long periods of time in which Poe was sober, however, short periods of terrible binges occurred (Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore 2009). During these binges, which lasted days or weeks, Poe would lose control and occasionally become fall-down drunk. He knew he was an alcoholic and tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to control this tendency. Alcohol was victorious in The Black Cat because alcohol had the upper hand in Poe’s life at the time the story was written. The story was published in 1843.
At this time, Poe was in the midst of one of his longest and worst series of binges. His wife, Virginia, was extremely sick and Poe only knew how to coped by being constantly intoxicated. Poe understood and hated his alcoholism and during this period but he could not himself from drinking. The Cask of Amontillado was written in November of 1846 when Poe was in a more sober stage. Although, his binges that had begun in 1842, they officially ended with the death of Poe’s wife Virginia in January of 1847. There is no evidence Poe drank during 1846.
In fact, Poe took his sobriety extremely seriously and joined the Sons of Temperance, Shockoe Hill Division, in Richmond VA in 1849 (Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore 2009). Poe might not have been able to suppress his alcoholic tendencies while writing The Black Cat, but he seems to have found his way when he wrote The Cask of Amontillado. In general, The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado have a few superficial similarities. For instance, they were both written in the first person by a murderer that bricks his victim into the wall of his cellar. The narrators of both tales seem to be attempting to suppress their alcoholism.
There is, however, a big difference between the two tales, the narrator of The Black Cat is brought to justice for his crimes while the narrator of The Cask of Amontillado lives a long and happy life. In other words, in The Black Cat the narrator is unsuccessful in repressing his alcoholism while in The Cask of Amontillado the narrator is successful. When one compares the details to Poe’s life, one can understand how the stories relate to Poe’s alcoholism in different periods of his life. However, somewhere along the line alcohol took over and Poe became a raging alcoholic.
In fact, the last few months of his life, Poe would wander about the streets of Baltimore, babbling, obviously incoherent and extremely drunk (Hopkins 2007). On October 3, 1849 he was found on the streets of Baltimore, extremely incoherent and in “great distress and in need of immediate assistance” (Hopkins 2007). Poe died four days later and was never coherent long enough to explain what had happened to him (Hopkins 2007). Edgar Allan Poe’s death remains mysterious to this day. Many doctors and medical teams disputed his death but ultimately came to the conclusion that the cause of death was drunkenness.
Even though, there an exact cause of death has ever been identified, many theories have developed that Poe may had contracted syphilis during his lifetime, and it ultimately causing his death. Poe is buried on the ground of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, which is now the University Of Maryland School Of Law. Overall, Edgar Allan Poe can be considered the Father of American Gothic. He was an amazing writer and poet. He introduced America to a whole new way of writing. Many might find his tales disturbing, but once one starts to read his work, one is compelled to finish it.