Through the centuries of inhabitation of the American soil, many people had written about what would then happen to them as they resided on this new frontier. They would write about new ideas and principles, those of which they would live out their daily lives. Works were conjured up upon what was laid in front of their feet, and what they would have to conquer to enter the future. One such author, Edgar Allan Poe, had told stories of characters caught in the clutch of mysterious or supernatural forces, moving irrevocably toward imminent destruction. These characters were his way of displaying the turmoil that the newly arrived Americans would have to face in the future. Through his archaistic diction, descriptive narration, and unorthodox means of writing, one can ascertain the fact that Poe imbedded a mark into American literature as a founder of the unique, national literature of America’s infancy.
DeCrevecoeur once wrote, in his 1782 essay, “Letters From an American Farmer,” ‘The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and from new opinions.’ The early American writers can be attributed to carrying out, through writing, deCovevoeur’s definition of an American. And none other than Edgar Allan Poe was able to depict the American life through detailed writing. He, following with the definition, certainly brought new ideas up to the surface. In such writings as A Descent into the Maelstrom and MS Found in a Bottle, Poe wrote of characters striving to victoriously arrive at the end of their plight.
These problems of theirs weren’t the every-day, typical problems people face, either. By paralleling the American’s progress into the heart of a new and unknown area, Poe could describe the hardships of which the Americans had to endure. Through this method, those who weren’t at the heart of the matter could understand what the Americans were doing, and why they were doing it. Many of those who read Poe’s works turned out to be in the younger section of the American population. Upon finishing a work by Poe, those young boys and girls had aspirations of becoming writers, as well (Blackmur 375). To those young people, Poe was an inspiration to become a writer. To them, he was a great American writer, and to the rest of America, an archetype of American literature. Because of this parallelism, many that were oblivious to American life could now comprehend this new lifestyle.
Archaistic diction, appropriately applied by Poe, showed up in each of his works. Through this old-fashioned word choice, Poe was able to describe in greater detail, and with sufficient eloquence, the arduous American lifestyle. The language in which he used wasn’t at that time old-fashioned. But to the present day standards, those linguistic skills carry a sense of highly refined eloquence. Such words as “forth” and “herewith” introduce an out-dated means of writing, and at the same time, a sense of direction. One could fully experience what Poe was trying to say about the American life. He wouldn’t become confused as to what the author was trying to state. As compared to the present works of literature, Poe’s writings are seen as the “forefather” for American literature. Since then, with exceptions, American literature has slowly transcended from a source of conveying what was happening to the world, to a source of pure entertainment.
When he wrote his stories, Edgar Allan Poe wrote to the emotions and ethics of his readers. He knew what emotions the Americans had while embarking on their painstaking journey into the unknown. One of the most dominant of the emotions was fear. In The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe writes of a man who was terribly afraid of his roommate because of his “Evil Eye.” The man kept a steady watch over his roommate, until he eventually killed him out of sheer fear.
The main character, just like many of the Americans at that time, even through drastic actions, overcame his fear. A characteristic of the “new man” of America was one of being able to conquer the tasks that stood in front of him. This kind of heroic character that Poe created embodied the typical American – someone who was ready to search for a new life, encounter the hardships that would come, and endure the strains put on them both physically and mentally. It was through works of literature like Poe’s where Americans gained motivation to be all that they could. Along with fear, strength was a characteristic of the new American. Strength can be seen in the characters in his A Descent into the Maelstrom and The Balloon-Hoax.
A fourth device in which Poe uses ever so well is description, especially of the story’s setting. By describing the entire setting with great detail, Poe doesn’t leave the reader wondering what any of the setting looks like. His writing gives a vivid and graphic description of where the story took place. This sense of great detail that his works emit can be paralleled to that of the American settlers. Both settings, the reality of American settling and the fictional world of Poe, are both described as having dark and gloomy exteriors. The American land was dark because the residents didn’t know of all that lived out in the darkness. Edgar Allan Poe describes his world as being “dank and dark.” The Fall of the House of Usher illustrates Poe’s critical doctrine that unity of effect depends on unity of tone (Grantz).
Edgar Allan Poe uses the concept of reality to introduce the aspects of life into his world of literature. Such can be seen in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. In this story, Poe makes sure that the reader knows that in both stories and in real life, death can not be escaped. In this story, the character of Prince Prospero represents happiness, and human happiness seeks to wall out the threat of death (Womack). Poe was trying to make it crystal clear that his readers knew that there was an end, and that end would come no matter what. Reality was an important message that Poe wanted to introduce to the general public.
Readers were to be certain that no matter what they did, it would cumulate at the end. They were to do whatever they wanted to do, because they only had a limited amount of time to do it in. Sure, depicting the finite amount of time humans have to live is gloomy, but that was reality. The majority of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems were conceived to be dark, gloomy writings depicting the demonic and wrongful members of society. But, through thorough investigation, one can see that Poe was telling the stories of the Americans through “not-so-imaginary” characters.
When he wrote, Edgar Allan Poe chose to write through some of the most realistic themes. By writing through these kinds of themes, Poe adapted the ways of American life into his stories. If there was a family struggling to create a prosperous life in the city, Poe could write about a character who tried to slay some sort of monster, and how he would triumph over that monster. In this case, the monster is the family’s struggle to establish a life in the city. Realistic themes empower the writings, giving them a story that the reader can relate to. In one of his stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe writes of an evil in which a man defeats.
This evil was his roommate’s vulture-like, pale blue eye, in which he called the “Evil Eye.” It can be said that this man was overcome with irrational fear, which led to irrational actions of violence. Poe could have been describing that there were also a few Americans who were too overcome by fear that they lashed out at their friends, family or themselves. They might have thought that they could handle the new life, but fell while trying to do so. Along with this idea, Poe wrote of an “Evil Eye.” In Mediterranean faiths, the evil eye was centered around a belief that whoever controlled the evil eye could cause harm just by a single look (Womack). It’s through such themes that Poe mixes together beliefs and lifestyles of foreign nations, with those of America, thus creating an authentic representation of their lifestyles.
Edgar Allan Poe was capable of allowing the entire world to read and see what the Americans had to put up with while living on American soil. Like other early American writers, Poe wrote about, even though it wasn’t stated, American life and the gruesome struggles of which Americans encountered. Poe wrote about the New World as the inhabitants experienced it. Poe characterized the “new man” as a hero, a man who went to the end for his cause. The readers of his stories could easily adapt to the underlying story of each one. It is in this manner, that Edgar Allan Poe left his mark in the creation of a unique, national American literature.