Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Manifestation of Insanity

Michael Fong
Journal #5 Edgar Allan Poe
October 7, 2009

"I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the phantasmagoric influence of the gloomy furniture of the room-of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed...Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with haste, for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night, and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment." (Edgar Allan Poe 1562)

"He was an adventurer into the vaults and cellars and horrible underground passages of the human soul. He sounded the horror and the warning of his own doom." (D.H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature 1924)

While the narrator in the story tries to assist his friend Roderick Usher through his mysterious bout of illness, he was at the same time becoming increasingly paranoid about the house and the environment he was in. This serves as a precursor for the eventual ending of the story, in which the terrible revelation meets both of them.

I recall when I first read Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" the constant chill of impeding horror, mystery, and suspense was so perfectly executed that it was almost as if a motion picture was playing before me, with the events unfolding before my very eyes. The art of manipulating and affecting strongly the minds of readers is incredibly hard; Poe's mastery of the skill of Gothic story telling is simply breathtaking.

Part of what the story is dealing with is the notion of insanity, and the way that Poe handled this particular topic was exercised to perfection. Is it the mental illness that induces physical manifestations in which the narrator and Roderick Usher both experience, or is it the physical surroundings that caused the psychological symptoms? Poe, in my opinion, deliberately blurred the line in between, and in doing so, the whole notion of insanity is presented in a unbelievably realistic light. The infusion of the house as a "living organism" actively taking part in the story also heightens the horror and suspense in the story.

People have always been fascinated with the psychology of the mind, and I think D.H. Lawrence made an extremely acute observation: Poe is indeed embarking on adventures thro
ugh both the minds and the soul of man. He wrings logic and reason to their knees, and replaces them with emotions, chaos, and instability. As readers, we are thrown into the mix. I myself personally feel that reading "The Fall of the House of Usher" is similar to walking in a dark corridor with the carpet continuously being pulled away from time to time. We are currently living in the modern times with horror movies available to us in such amazing realistic precision, and yet the perpetual fear as well as the power to ensnare readers into its web of horror and suspense that Poe's work retains surely is a statement cementing his place and legacy in the Gothic genre of literature.

1 comment:

  1. 20 points. I love the way you use Lawrence as a springboard for your own insights.