Books and Movies Reviews

THE THEME OF TRAGEDY IN EDGAR ALLAN POE’S TALES OF TERROR

Although most readers would not immediately recognize it, a number of
the so-called “Tales of Terror” by American author Edgar Allan Poe, born in
Boston in 1809 and the youngest son of Elizabeth and David Poe. Jr.,
contain central themes associated with tragedy and tragic drama. With a
detailed reading of such tales as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the
Pendulum,” “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Fall of the
House of Usher,” the dark presence of tragedy can be strongly sensed, for
it not only permeates the plotlines but also the various characters that
bring the tale to life as though each was experiencing the sensations and
emotions that make up a true tragic figure, replete with misery, denial,
fabrications, and death. Ironically, Poe’s own life was based on a tragic
drama, for it was influenced by many events that were beyond his control,
such as the early death of his wife Virginia in 1847 from tuberculosis. In
essence, it could be said that Poe had his own “fatal flaw” that finally
led to his own death in October of 1849 at the age of forty.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle defines tragic drama as “a power
capable of raising pity and fear, or terror. . . to purge the mind of these
passions. . . to temper and reduce them. . . by reading or seeing those
passions imitated” (Hamilton, 56), i.e. tragedy gnaws at one’s emotions,
thus bringing about a release, or purgation, when the tragic figure is
triumphant or victorious over his oppressors or the object of his
frustrations. However, since Aristotle’s time, literary purists have
what constitutes tragedy, yet Poe’s own interpretation of this term is
“the primordial emotions that rise from the deepest recesses of the human
soul” which he described as “the reproduction of what the senses perceive
in nature through a veil. . . the naked senses sometimes sees too little–
but then they always see too muc…

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