Poe And Burial Motifs Essay

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).

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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 his victim. He gets off on causing pain. Replying to
Fortunato’s plea he mimics “Yes, let us be gone,” with contempt in his
voice (Poe 7). Montressor has broken another man’s spirit, and taken away his
life. This makes him happy, because he has upheld a troublesome family motto
“Nemo me impune lacessit” (“No one assails me with
impunity”) (Poe 4). A twisted outdated motto causes the death of Fortunato.

The burying of a live body conjures up images of desperation and hopelessness of
the victim. Montrtessor has all of the power. He picks the time and place where
Fortunato will meet his end. Obvious disregard of life is maniacal. The
perpetrator in The Tell-Tale-Heart states clearly that he enjoys the act of
killing. “In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy
bed over him, I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far gone” (Poe2).

This sick individual not only kills the old man, but he “…dismembers the
corpse. [He] cut off the head and the arms and the legs” (Poe 2). He seems
to take pride in his clever cover up of the annihilation bragging “There
was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood spot whatever. I had
been too wary for that. A tub had caught all -ha! ha!” (Poe 3). This man is
a true sociopath, and psychotic. Any act one can imagine being grotesque he has
committed. This is a person who is not in his right mind. His acts are shocking
and almost unbelievable, but not quite. There are deranged people who commit
vile, meaningless acts of violence just because. The scariest part about this
perversity is that it does happen, people can be this repugnant. The ultimate
payback for wrongdoing is retribution. It is a means by which one releases
anger. When revenge is taken, the outcome is satisfaction. Power is definitely
associated with it. The need to be the dominating figure in a relationship fuels
the desire. Sometimes retribution is directed at personage who has little to do
with what is being avenged. The person may be representative of a greater cause.

He or she is just an outlet for abuse. It feels good to get even with someone,
even if it is not the source of the problem. Poe has many problems that he can
not fix. This angers him. He does not understand why he is afflicted with so
much grief. The Black Cat is a story that revolves around revenge. It is a more
complex then first observed. The man is not lashing out at his animals because
they have done something to offend him. The abuse is given because the animals
can not fight back. They are defenseless against the brute force. He is really
angry at society, but can not tap the proper channels to vent his rage. “I
grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of
others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my At length, I even
offered…personal violence” (Poe 1). He has grown cold throughout the
years losing the lust for life he once had. He needs to seek refuge from the
outside world. “…My disease grew upon me-for what disease is like Alcohol
(Poe 1). Alcohol gives him a place to hide and, contributes to his lunacy. Under
the influence he becomes a monster. Poe himself “uses alcohol as an
anesthetic to ease other problems, both physical and emotional” (Mankowitz
236). He feels isolated from society parallel to the nameless man in this story.

Deliberately sinning allows the man to feel power. He is in control of his
actions. I “…hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I
knew that in so doing I was committing a sin…” (Poe 2). Challenging a
system of beliefs questions its existence. He is almost daring a higher power to
punish him. This will let him know if there is something to believe in. He is a
lost soul among many that is yearning for something to believe in. Poe is facing
death, because of all of the pain he has gone through he too questions God. How
could God let him suffer, and take his life so soon? He can not answer this, but
his stories do scream the question. Retribution against death is a focus in The
Tell-Tale-Heart. The old man is symbolic of death. “He had the eye of a
vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my
blood ran cold (Poe 1). The vulture is a bird that only preys upon the dead.

Blood running cold is associated with a corpse; therefore, death. His words
prove that the eye is expiration looking him in the face. “He was still
sitting up in bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night,
hearkening to death watches on the wall” (Poe 1). Killing the old man is
retribution for fear of death. He is a constant reminder of the perpetrator’s
greatest fear. Wondering when cessation is going to occur can drive a man
insane. “His eye would trouble me no more,” illustrates that the man
has defeated death (Poe 2). This is ironic because death will always triumph in
the end. The killing may give the man temporary solace from his fear, but it can
not last. Poe’s illness causes him to constantly deal with the coming of his
end. He too wishes there were something he can do to ward it off. Obviously this
is not possible. The Cask of Amontillado revels in revenge based on upholding
one’s family motto. Fortunato disrespected Montressor, “the thousand
injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but he…ventured upon
insult…” (Poe 1). Montressor is an extremely proud man. He takes the
comments to heart, and is disturbed by them. His need for revenge is innate. The
need is genetic, based on the family motto, which states “No one assails me
with impunity”. He is compelled to commit murder to honor his family name.

Montressor must seek his resolution very mechanically. “A wrong is
unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed
when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the
wrong” (Poe 1). Fortunado must not know that he is seeking revenge, but
when the plot is revealed it is imperative that he takes credit for the act.

Montressor’s act of murder is calculated; thus, chillingly horrifying. The
organization insures that Fortunado is doomed. Poe’s interest in burial motifs
allows him to explore the same themes, but using different premises. Poe’s free
and out of the ordinary style is very successful in incorporating the
supernatural, perverse, and retribution into his work. He maintains his interest
as well as the reader’s by including subjects that are not prevalent. It is
shocking, disturbing, and challenging to read. Some of Poe’s literature has
obvious relations to his own life, and how he coped with the problems that faced
him. Having problems in ones life can escalate the soul to accomplish great
things. Poe’s lifestyle is very much a part of style.

Mankowitz, Wolf. The Extraordinary Mr. Poe and his Times. New York: Summit
Books, 1978. Phillips, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe-The Man, Volume II. Chicago, IL:
The John C. Winston Co, 1912. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Black Cat. Online. Personal
Computer. Simpatico. Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.gothic.net/poe/works/black_cat.txt
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado. Online. Personal Computer. Simpatico.

Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.literature.org/Works/Edgar-Allan-Poe/amontillado.html
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale-Heart. Online. Personal Computer. Simpatico.

Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.gothic.net/poe/works/tell-tale_heart.txt


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