When thinking of a theme that unites some two stories of Edgar Allan Poe, I came up with the idea of otherness. It could probably be explained by my perception of the writer as someone who followed a really different path in his life, a kind of a unique literary and artistic genius. Whereas otherness, in my view, in many cases does not relate to the brain damage or a person’s mental illness, in other it may often be found to be linked to some kind of these. Researcher Carolyn Kaufman in the study of the Other in various works of fiction notes that those characteristics which make us think of a different person as the Other appear to be often linked to this person’s psychological disorders. The scholar observes, “Most of us have trouble knowing how to react to someone who behaves strangely, or whose behavior or ideas scare us. We say, “He’s out of his mind,””He’s lost his mind,” or “He’s acting crazy.” (Kaufman). Not surprisingly, this is true about the majority of geniuses, another author Wolchover comments (Wolchover).

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It gets clear that alterity or otherness in many cases is resultant from some psychological disorder, which in its turn typically results from different brain chemistry or a severe life stress. One may say that Edgar Allan Poe was just the example of such Other exactly in this sense. With reference to this, Wolchover once listed him among “many of history’s most celebrated creative geniuses (who) were mentally ill” (Wolchover). THESIS STATEMENT: It is Edgar Allan Poe’s tales which are full of terror that greatly contribute to the author’s reputation of the Other alongside some really weird facts from his biography.

It seems that almost in all of us who have ever read anything written by Edgar Allan Poe, the stories of his oeuvre have evoked the scary images of mad people, as well as cruel and truly cynical murderers, very weird women who came back from the dead, as well and characters’ untimely burials. As a matter of fact, one may see that the key characters in a series of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories are simply insane. It can be explained by their insanity that these characters are acting the way they actually do, and the reading audience are gradually driven to absolutely abominable endings. It is worth noting that often Poe’s stories are told from the first person’s view or from the narrator’s own perspective, and this makes it evident that this narrator (who, by the way, is associated with the stories’ author himself) is clearly mentally different. Let us now see how the narrator’s insanity manifests itself in his two most famous short stories: the first one – “The Tell Tale Heart”, and the second one – “The Cask of Amontillado.”

The first story immediately immerses the reading audience in the Poe’s world of the narrator’s otherness and his insanity altogether. Judging by the opening phrase “True-nervous-, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” it is perfectly clear that some mental disorder is what is driving the key character in all his actions. Needless to say, the subsequent text step by step uncovers the harrowing details of how the story’s narrator makes inconsistent efforts to provide for a logical explanation for his killing of the employer, in reality a kind-hearted and well-off person. For the narrator, the “rational” explanation may be the “evil eye”, which, as the narrator confesses, he saw in his employer, yet this explanation appears to be devoid of any plausible worth, since it turns out to be grounded on the narrator’s pure illusion. This leads the reader to realisation that the narrator did not in fact have any strong negative feelings directed against the poor man, but masterfully committed the murder driven by his state of being haunted. As the analysis of the story shows, that act of violence is clearly deprived of any sense (Bloom 41). Further, the main character’s other actions happen to demonstrate his insanity or mental illness. For example, the killing and subsequent disposal of the employer’s corpse gets done in a surprisingly methodical manner; it is described very scrupulously. In particular, the readers get to know how exactly the narrator suffocates his poor victim and how he dismembers the dead body.

Similarly, in the short story “The Cask of Amontillado”, the narrator evolves as an insane man who is driven to committing a murder by his insanity. In this story, the scary narrator by the name Montresor gradually describes how he first decided to kill and later killed one of his good old friends whom he started to consider an enemy perhaps because of some careless remark. Seething with rage, which evidently does not have any more or less logical explanation, the narrator in “The Cask of Amontillado” devises an intricate plan of murdering Fortunato. He first lures the poor man, who was a famous wine-taster in their town, into gloomy wine cellars under his palace which also performed the role of his predecessors’ tombs. Fortunato is then told by the narrator that there is a cask of some valuable wine down in the palace’s cellar, so he follows Montresor. Finally, Fortunato ends up chained by his ex-friend to the walls of Montresor’s ancient tombs and dies buried alive as Montresor cruelly leaves him under the ground. Mental otherness demonstrates itself by the narrator’s getting very angry at his poor victim for a couple of what can be seen as careless words, which none of normal people would perceive as any kind of insult at all. So, the narrator violates important moral and humane principles as he murders the poor man. Also, it is insanity that forces him to recollect everything in very subtle detail and with persisting rage.

As one starts looking for the explanation for the otherness theme in Poe’s biographical data, it becomes clear that it is not only through the literary works of his that Poe expressed his otherness. Available credible sources on Edgar Allan Poe’s biography clarify that Poe’s troubles with his grave psychological state began very early in his life. Specifically, Mary Bonaparte admits that during his life the writer and poet was haunted by an inexplicable and weird longing for his late mother (Bonaparte). That caused Poe to perceive all other women as nothing else but embodiments of his deceased parent. Still, they were just surrogates, and Poe was suffering from the absence of his beloved person to a great extent. It turns out that he could not replace in real life his long-dead mother by any other woman.

Some time later in his life, when he was penniless and unappreciated by the American audience, Edgar Allan Poe found himself suffering from alcohol addiction. It only exacerbated his condition. One of Poe’s well-known quotes about himself was the following: “I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity” (Edgar Allan Poe, “Letter to George W. Eveleth”). It gets clear that the author’s insanity was not his ultimate condition, but affected only a part of his personality. Through his stories, therefore, the writer acted and thought as someone who we’d call the Other. In this regard, Poe was fully aware of his alterity, as may be seen from his words: “From childhood’s hour I have not been. As others were, I have not seen. As others saw, I could not awaken. My heart to joy at the same tone. And all I loved, I loved alone.” (Edgar Allan Poe, “Alone”)

In summary, the theme of Otherness in Poe’s short stories was rooted in his mental condition and made his works distinctly different from other literary pieces. Poe’s insanity demonstrated itself via harrowing actions of his characters and in his weird plots. Besides, it led him to the personal demise in real life. Severely haunted by images of the dead mother and his unfulfilled desire both to love and to be loved, Edgar Allan Poe was managed to create a series of acclaimed works in American literature, which would be admired by both laymen and experts.

  • Bonaparte, M. The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Translated by John
    Rodker. London: Imago, 1949. Print.
  • Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers: Edgar Allan Poe. Broomall, Pennsylvania: Chelsea
    House, 1999. Print.
  • Poe, Edgar A. The Cask of Amontillado. Edgar Allan Poe: Sixty-Seven Tales. Avenel,
    New Jersey: Gramercy Books, 1985. Print.
  • Poe, Edgar A. The Tell-Tale Heart. Edgar Allan Poe: Sixty-Seven Tales. Avenel, New
    Jersey: Gramercy Books, 1985. Print.
  • Poe, Edgar A. “Letter to George W. Eveleth.” Jan 4, 1848. Eapoe.org. Web. 16 December