Master of Arts
Rashidah J. Muhammad, Ph.D.
Bradley Smith, Ph.D.
Rosemary Johnsen, Ph.D.
The objective of my study is to examine specific works by Edgar Allan Poe that best emulate his literary obsession with insanity and the grotesque, arguing that these elements of his literature serve as the source of inspiration for many 20th and 21st century gothic literature writers. Two of Poe’s poems that will be analyzed and critiqued include, “The Sleeper” which was originally published in 1831 and “The Raven” published in 1845. There will also be two of Poe’s shorter fiction pieces that will be analyzed and critiqued, which include, “Berenice” published in 1835 and “The Black Cat” which was published in 1843.
When discussing the development of Poe’s earlier Gothic literature to his more current works, Andrew Smith suggests in his piece, Victorian Gothic Death, that, “there is either a view that the corruption of the body can be transcended (perhaps most clearly typified by the ghost story), or that there is the horror of dead undead bodies (as in the vampire, for example). However, there is a consistent theme which aligns images of death with models of subjectivity…” (Smith 159). The specific elements of death within Poe’s literature that Smith analyzes are both recognized as common death related themes within more contemporary gothic literature as well. This knowledge indicates the idea that Poe still has a heavy influence on 20th and 21st century writers.
The three 20th century gothic writers that will be discussed in my study include Mary Wilkins Freeman and her short story published in 1903, “Shadows on the Wall,” H.P. Lovecraft and his short story published in 1925, “In the Vault,” and finally Stephen King’s short story published in 1972, “Suffer the Little Children.” An aspect of Poe’s writing that is also a familiar theme within 20th century gothic literature is violence. As J. Gerald Kennedy notes in his work, A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, “…a crucial component of American identity, the ‘internal flaw of violence’ has been traced…to the frontier ethos of standing one’s ground and meting out personal justice…If Poe prefers European settings and avoids explicitly nationalistic subjects, his tales nevertheless render in graphic detail the quick American impulse to violence” (Kennedy 5). When making the connections of Poe’s initial creations within gothic literature to more contemporary gothic writing, it is indicating that the themes revolving around the corruption of a body, dead yet undead bodies, and impulsive violence are vastly present. Kennedy continues his theory of Poe being the landmark of gothic literature by making the claim that, “Poe anatomizes the psychology of revenge, flaunts atrocity, and depicts the recrudescence of our national ‘internal flaw” (Kennedy 5). This accusation thus suggests the idea that any work containing these concepts that were written after Poe’s publications, were subsequently inspired by Poe.
The implications I have made based on my study are important as they directly correlate to the increase of gothic literature over the past few centuries. Although my Thesis focuses directly on Poe’s inspiration over other writers, his work has also had literary influence on musical lyrics, films, and television shows; implying that Poe has been an inspiration to many styles of contemporary artists in the later centuries. Understanding the level of persuasion that Poe’s work has had on how other authors choose to write their gothic literature suggests just how important and powerful Poe is within American literary history.
Horton, Alexandrea L., "19th Century Gothic Inspiration: Investigating the Next Generation of Poes" (2016). All Student Theses. 82.