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Poes Burial Motifs
Poe is a very complicated author. His literary works are perplexed, disturbing, and even grotesque. His frequent illnesses may have provoked his engrossment in such things. In 1842 Dr. John W. Francis diagnosed Poe with sympathetic heart trouble as well as brain congestion. He also noted Poe's inability to withstand stimulants such as drugs and alcohol (Phillips 1508). These factors may have motivated him to write The Tell-Tale-Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Black Cat. All of these stories are written in or around 1843, shortly after Poe became afflicted. His writing helped him to cope with his troubles and explore new territory in literature. Poe's interest in the supernatural, retribution, and perverse cause them to be included in his burial motifs; therefore sustaining his interest. There is a common thread laced through each subject, but there is variation in degrees of the impact. The supernatural is the phenomena of the unexplained. With this comes an aura of mystery and arousal of fear. Death in itself is the supreme mystery. No living human being can be certain of what happens to the soul when one dies. It is because of this uncertainty that death is feared by many. These types of perplexing questions cause a reader to come to a point of indifference within one of Poe's burial motifs. One is uncertain of how the events can unfold, because a greater force dictates them.
Reincarnation in The Black Cat is a supernatural force at work. There is some sort of orthodox witchcraft-taking place. The whole story revolves around the cat, Pluto, coming back to avenge its death. One can not be sure how Pluto's rebirth takes place, but it is certain that something of a greater force has taken hold. The cat's appearance is altered when the narrator comes across it the second time. There is a white spot on the chest "by slow degrees, degrees nearly imperceptible…it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinct outline…of the GALLOWS" (Poe 4). Foretelling the narrator's fate a confinement tool appears on the cat's chest. This also foreshadows the cat's confinement in the tomb. It reappears like a disease to take vengeance on a man that has committed horrid crimes. "I was answered by a voice within the tomb! --By a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and quickly swelling into one long, loud and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman--a howl--a wailing shriek, half of honor and half of triumph (Poe 6). Pluto is like Poe's reoccurring illness it keeps coming back just when he thinks it is gone. This can be related to the ever-looming question of why people become afflicted with disease. Is it punishment for wrongdoing? Some religions find this to be the answer. Poe's intrigue in reincarnation may have been in that of his own immortality.
Metaphysical events take place in The Tell-Tale-Heart. The perpetrator is driven by some unknown source to reveal his evil deed. The paranoia he feels is very real to him. "I fancied a ringing in my ears…[it] became more distinct…I found that the noise was not within my ears…It is the beating of the hideous heart [of the old man]" (Poe 3). Ringing is heard only in the man's head, but because a impetus has compelled him to believe otherwise he is inclined to reveal his misdeed. The source of the man's "voices" is from a force within himself. One's soul is an unexplainable power, which governs over the body. The murder of the old man is committed in passion. Disregarding any rational thoughts the narrator is engaged in his own desires. His unconcern for mankind causes his own insanity. Even he can not live with his actions. The mind as a supernatural force, that dictates life, can only cope with so much. Poe himself experiences hallucinations from his illness, and abuse of alcohol. Years of defilement caused his body, and mind to break down. At one point in time Poe raved "…for protection from an imaginary army of conspirators disguised as 'loungers'" (Mankowitz 232). Constant weight on ones mind can lead to insanity. Human beings can lose control of their lives. The Tell-Tale-Heart illustrates the human spirit as a mysterious and unexplainable force. Poe's life was full of turmoil, which inevitably caused his madness.
The enveloping force of evil drives Montressor to commit murder in The Cask of Amontillado. If supernatural is used in its broadest sense to mean "unexplained" then the force that impels Montressor's lack of humanity is indeed supernatural. Evil, as a uninhibited force propels the callous, vile act. When evil is introduced as a possible catalyst one can, at least in some sense, comprehend what drives Montressor's act of revenge. With out this force revenge is less likely to be taken to the extremes in this story. Fortunato, the unsuspecting victim, is blindly led to his death via a premeditated plan. Montressor guides him on the journey, patronizing him all the way. The torture that is put upon him is horrendous. He is entombed alive, and left to die. The mind can be a torturous device when all hope is stripped away. Fortunado must wait for death, all the while reliving his regrets. Montressor states "…a brief moment I hesitate--I trembled…But the thought of an instant reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt satisfied" (Poe 8). For an instant his humanity is unveiled, but quickly covered again. He has no problem leaving his victim in the catacombs to die. Poe does an excellent job creating a character of evil. Many of his literary works deal with the origin of evil. Montressor's need for revenge causes him to give himself to the dark side.
Perversity is a theme that exists within the three stories at hand. When one takes pleasure in something that is knowingly wrong it is perverse. It exhibits a blatant lack of humanity. Delectation in the grotesque is also sinful. Committing or witnessing acts of mutilation or murder is depraved. Someone has to be out of balance to seriously consider such ignominious acts. Poe uses perversity to shock, and disgust the reader. Reading about such atrocities brings the reader to a different level of cognition. One sees into the mind of a character that is distorted, and gets a direct show of what is motivating him or her.
The main character in The Black Cat kills his wife without any compunction. After he "…buried the axe in her brain," his only apprehension is of how to conceal the crime (Poe 3). He states "many projects entered my mind," attesting to his search for the perfect burial place. The man commits a bloody, brutal murder of a loved one, but is only concerned with himself. Delight is actually taken in the death, because he is able to get a good night sleep. "The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little;" he has no regrets and nothing to fret about. Pleasure is obtained from the death, not the act, but the rewards of it. Hiding the body in the false chimney illustrates his lack of respect for his wife. He is pleased with himself for finding such a clever hiding place, but she is not attributed a proper burial. Perversity embodies this man. He is disturbed.
Montressor, in The Cask of Amontillado, is a pervert. He enjoys watching Fortunato suffer. Pleasure seeps from his spirit when Fortunato exclaims "Ha! ha! ha!--he! he!--a very good joke indeed--an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it…Let us be gone" (Poe 7). The man is using his last fragment of hope, but Montressor plays with him. He likes to hear the suffering in the voice of
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