“From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure.” (Poe, "The Black Cat", 1845)
Although, the events in the story lead us to believe he is far from that. Is the narrator trying to convince himself he is sane because he is straddling the fence as Poe might have been doing in reality? Many would agree and use his works to argue that he, indeed, possessed multiple personalities.
Next, would be the way Poe has his victims hidden impulsively and after their death. Poe frequently uses a premature burial motif and a theme of suffocation. These two concepts are sometimes linked, as a kind of "Life-in-Death" theme. These kinds of "deaths" are portrayed very vividly in "The Cask of Amontillado," The Black Cat,” "The Telltale Heart," and "The Fall of the House of Usher.” The following is the final passage from “The Cask of Amontillado” just before the narrator places the last stone in position to leave his foe, Fortunato, for a slow and asphyxiated death.
“No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!” (Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado", 1846)
Poe’s “self medication” with alcohol abuse was well known. He could have been using these burials as to provide us with the pain he felt. Although he was very much alive, his soul had slid into a dark shadow only to peer out when he sat down to write his stories. Another example would be in “The Black Cat” which explains what the narrator decides to do with her. It reads as follows:
This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without the risk of being observed by the neighbours…Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the cellar - as the monks of the Middle Ages are recorded to have walled up their victims. (Poe, "The Black Cat", 1845)
Poe’s decision of concealment in this story seems like a very hasty decision. Judging by the number of marriages he had, one could argue that he was also that way in his choices. None of them lasted very long and he was known to be unfaithful. He would jump quickly from one relationship to the other.
Lastly, he uses the recurring object of an eye in stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat.” The eye could be a representation of how he felt constantly criticized by people due to his writings at the time. Given the period in which they were published, he could have received his fair share of scrutiny. The stories were very grotesque and amazingly descriptive throughout the plot. In addition, with the plot overwhelmingly being death, he was stepping out on a limb to portray things that would not have been discussed openly. A short passage from “The Tell-Tale Heart” states:
“So I opened it--you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily--until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of a spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye. The eye was wide open. I saw it with perfect distinctness--all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones....[N]othing else of the old man's face or person [could be seen]. The time had come… I placed my hand upon [his] heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more." (Online Literature Library, 2007)
So, was there any truth to Poe and his anecdotes? Upon analyzing some of the fascinations Poe decided to use in most of his stories, the answer seems to be “Yes.” Some truth or insight was directly related to actuality. He was a troubled man who was able to pour out his heart and soul through fictional stories. These stories have become classics and studied by almost everyone leading him to be one of, if not, the most famous authors of all time.
Online Literature Library. (2007). "The Tell-Tale Heart". Retrieved 1 30, 2010, from Literature.org: http://www.literature.org/authors/poe-edgar-allan/tell-tale-heart.html
Poe, E. A. (1845). "The Black Cat". In R. DiYanni, Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (pp. 137-145). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Poe, E. A. (1846). "The Cask of Amontillado". In R. DiYanni, Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (pp. 144-149). New York: McGraw-Hill.