Motives for Edgar Allan Poe’s Darkness in His Literary Works

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Thesis: The life and works of Edgar Allan Poe had a great impact in the literary world. The events that shaped Poe’s entire life from childhood are reflected in his short stories, poems and tales. There are many other authors who have different views on Poe’s literary works as well as his life.

I. Poe’s life experiences seem to have shaped his writings.

A. Early Life.

B. Education and Expulsion for the university.

C. Enlisted in the army.

D. Dumped by his longtime fiancée who married another man.

E. Married his young and sickly cousin.

II. Poe wrote many literary works that are analyzed by other related literary authors.

A. Poe and Borges.

B. Science and philosophy.

C. Death as a reality.

D. Poe’s death and fame.

E. Horror fictions.

F. Framing effects.

G. Gothic tales.

III. Poe’s life events draw a reflection of his literary works, which were filled with dark themes, horror and violence.


The name Edgar Allan Poe is very famous in the literary field. Poe was a writer, poet, editor, and critic, renowned for his poems and stories of mystery and horror. His excellent and imaginative storytelling of horror and mystery gave rise to the contemporary detective fiction. The works written by Poe are mainly characterized by dark themes and violence, as well as psychologically unsound characters.

Early Life, Education, and Rejection

Poe was born in 1809 in Boston to David Poe and Elizabeth Poe, who were professional actors but both his parents passed away before Poe had turned three years old (Hayes 45). Poe never knew his parents quite well. Before the death of his parents, his father had already deserted the family and his mother died of tuberculosis when Poe had barely attained three years. After being orphaned, a rich merchant in Richmond called John Allan took Poe and raised him in his home although Poe was never lawfully adopted by Allan. His foster parents gave him their middle name, Allan, which Poe used throughout his lifetime. When Poe reached six years, his foster family took him with them to England where he was sent to school (Hayes 47). Later, Poe was enrolled to the University of Virginia to study modern and ancient languages. However, during his first year in the university, he was forcefully expelled because he had developed gambling habits at the institution. Poe became engaged to his fiancée, Sarah Royster prior to enrolling to the university. During Poe’s stay in campus, he started having constant quarrels with his foster father because of his gambling debts which had risen to higher levels. However, Poe claimed that he was not getting enough money from his foster father to cover all the costs at the university (Hayes 47-48). Therefore, Poe decided to resort to gambling so that he could raise more funds to cover the deficit, but he found himself in even more debts. He went back home but faced another setback as his fiancée and neighbor Sarah Royster had married another man instead of waiting for him. Frustrated and heartbroken, he decided to move to Boston, where he sustained himself by doing odd jobs, such as being a newspaper writer and a clerk.

Enrollment in the Army, Marriage and Dismissal

Due to poverty, Poe decided to enlist in the military but with the passing away off his adoptive mother; John Allan decided to buy Poe’s discharge from the army. John Allan also helped Poe to secure employment in the military at West Point. However, he intentionally orchestrated his expulsion from military, by absconding all classes and drills for a whole week. He then moved to New York City and later back to Richmond, where he married his cousin who was only thirteen years old (Hayes 69). However, during their eleven-year marriage, his wife was suffering from tuberculosis for almost half their marriage, which made her incapacitated by the time she had reached twenty years. Poe’s home life gave him great happiness despite his poverty. Also, there are some beliefs that Poe was relieved of his duty in Richmond, probably because of drinking. Drinking was said to be part of his life and that for him to deliver a good speech in a big organization, he needed some slight stimulant, and so, some people believed that Poe was addicted to drugs.

Analysis of Poe’s Literary Works from Different Perspectives

During his lifetime, Poe wrote many short stories and poems. There are various articles by different authors that give different views and criticisms of Poe's life and his literary works. For example, Esplin points that Borges, an Argentine poet, believed that Poe was the pioneer of the contemporary detective story (458-460). In more than 130 articles, prologues, and essays that Borges wrote, he made reference to Poe. Borges also mentioned Poe in many interviews and collective works of fictitious criticism during his lifetime. Borges argued that modern literary works could not be in existence without Poe’s works and he talked about Poe in a biblical way (Esplin 461). As such, the number of times that Borges made reference to Poe during the writing career of Borges shows how Poe had a greater influence on Borges as a thinker and writer.

Poe’s stature as an icon in the literary world also drew on the scientific discussions during his time which made him an interesting character for exploring the historical relationship between literature, philosophy, and science. Gelfert, for example, points that Poe’s extensive poem, Eureka (1848), has occasionally been analyzed for possible future scientific developments (489-490). However, at the moment, the poem is considered to have made a significant contribution to the discussions and debates on the earlier scientific methodology during Poe’s lifetime. The attention given to ancient methodologies could be reflected in one of Poe’s poems called “Tales of Ratiocination,” which led to the suggestion that a new approach to making inferences be developed. Poe described such inference as a hybrid character that he called ‘poet-mathematician’ (Gelfert 491). If creative instinct and imagination had never existed, science would have remained inadequate, even if it is based on its standards alone. This issue of imaginative or abductive inference relates perfectly to Poe’s coherentism concept, which is intertwined with the virtues of consistency and simplicity that constrain imagination.

Other authors also have different views on Poe’s short stories and tales. For example, most literary authors consider his short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as the first-ever detective fiction, which has had a great influence on the works of these authors (Kozaczka 59-60). It was perhaps an impossible scenario because there were two women who were killed, one was in the backyard while the other inside a room that was locked from the inside (Kozaczka 62). The killings are particularly grisly and violent. Auguste Dupin, the officer investigating the killings, is perplexed. While it was generally agreed that such a situation is quite impossible, Dupin seemed to believe that once they can eliminate the impossible, the remaining clues, though questionable, could provide the answer (Kozaczka 62). Following the thought process of Dupin as he sifted through the evidence offers a fascinating study of how a detective’s mind works. The study is often regarded as the first-ever detective story. Dupin explains how he employs deductive reasoning (ratiocination) in an attempt to figure things out, although the process is very tedious and time-consuming. Nonetheless, the description of the scene of the crime and the accompanying investigations offer a somewhat interesting story. However, Kozaczka thinks that the solution seems to be too convenient and that there is no way that Dupin could have actually been able to deduce it (63). Also, if the witness saw the murder of the two people and escaped from the crime scene, how reasonable is it that he would answer an advertisement that asked if anybody had lost their orangutan? Therefore, it is quite interesting to see that the said witness was not found to have been responsible for the actions of the orangutan. While such a case would certainly not be possible today, it is a fascinating story that helps one to have a better understanding of the history of the detective genre.

Poe was also a trend-setting author when it came to stories of dark mysteries and gothic horror. His short and difficult life that ended in a mysterious death has fueled both folk and academic narratives. While the academic approach often analyzes Poe’s fiction in a biographical manner to reflect his life, for example, his impoverishment, frustrated ambition, and alcoholism, the folk account focuses on Poe’s death at a tender age of forty (Møllegaard 129-130). By straddling the literary fame of Poe, his literary works occupy a vibrant 'spielraum' in the modern folktale because his troubled life and strange death can be compared to the literary pacts for literary gothic as well as the collapse ‘low’ and ‘high’ culture (Møllegaard 136). In the case of Poe, the way his real-life struggles have intertwined with his fiction has made Poe’s literary works the most interesting piece.

Sun also agrees that Poe made incredible contributions to literary works whose themes were filled by violence and horror (94). The legacy Poe with regard to how he embraced the gothic fiction and the ancient folklore and combined them with his experience in life provided the basis for his mysterious and horror narratives. Poe embraced the gothic fictions practices and tailored them so that they could penetrate into the readers’ sub-consciousness. Poe used horror in his works to show people that their fear of supernatural powers, nothingness, evil, death, and the disintegration of one’s personality, comes from one’s soul (Sun 95-99). By using suspense, symbol, first-person storyteller, anti-closure, and the exaggeration of the atmosphere, Poe attempted to develop a uniform, intact, shaking, and mysterious effect. There is no doubt that Poe’s fictions give readers some form of aesthetic enjoyment. Using the image of horror and evil, Poe is able to achieve the purification and sublimation of a person’s inner world.

Another important literary work of Poe was the concept of framing effects. Framing effects tend to significantly influence the finitely repetitive matching pennies in a game. This is because a player who is branded ‘a guesser’ and whose objective is to match the action of the opponent seems to be advantageous regardless of whether such a player makes the first move or second. Eliaz and Rubinstein examine other explanations and attempt to relate them to The Purloined Letter that was developed by Poe, and they recommend a behavioral approach that would generate the asymmetry that is observed in the performance of players (88-99).

Poe mastered various literary forms during his short-lived and troubled life. As an accomplished narrator, Poe defied the convention by developing Gothic stories of horror, suspense, and mystery that have remained extensively popular today (Evelev, N.p.) Poe’s experience of life in nineteenth-century America greatly contributed to his iconoclasm and also shaped Poe’s literary legacy.


This essay has explored Poe's life and his extraordinary literary works by drawing from the works of other related others. From the discussion, Poe was a great author, poet, editor, and critic but he lived a troubled and impoverished life, dying at the age of forty. Poe’s early life seems to have had a significant impact on his literary works which were characterized by dark themes and characters of unsound minds. During his troubled life Poe, wrote many mysterious and terrifying poems, short stories, and tales, that somewhat seemed to reflect his own life.

Works Cited

Eliza, Kefir, and Ariel Rubinstein. “Edgar Allan Poe’s Riddle: Framing Effects in Repeated Matching Pennies Games.” Games and Economic Behavior 71.1 (2011): 88–99.

Splint, Emron. “Borges’s Philosophy of Poe’s Composition.” Comparative Literature Studies 50.3 (2013): 458–489.

Hayes, Kevin J., ed. Edgar Allan Poe in Context. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Gelfert, Axel. “Observation, Inference, and Imagination: Elements of Edgar Allan Poe’s Philosophy of Science.” Science and Education 23.3 (2014): 589–607.

Kozaczka, Edward J. “Death as Truth in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’” The Edgar Allan Poe Review XII.1 (2011): 59–71.

Møllegaard, Kirsten. “Fame after Life: The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s Death.” Folklore (Estonia) 65 (2016): 129–150.

Sun, Chunyan. “Horror from the Soul???gothic Style in Allan Poe???s Horror Fictions.” English Language Teaching 8.5 (2015): 94–99.

December 12, 2023



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