Poe’s Appeal to those Isolated in a Modern World

Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” provides an example of his universal appeal of terror to connect with his audience. Poe’s tale provides an alternative to audience that feels an isolation. The unnamed narrator in the tale navigates a path of uneasiness and unknown circumstances. One approach to Poe’s work focuses on his ability to control an emotional perception in his reader’s to entertain their desires. Another similar critique determines that these reactive perceptions are successful by being shifting extremes of emotional responses. The unnamed narrator is bombarded with these emotional shifts when he enters the house. His isolation and unnerving experience between Roderick and Madeline shows Poe’s ability to create emotional extremes. Poe’s appeal to those unsatisfied with Romanticism’s unrealistic positivity in the unknown of industrialization in the 19th century is called by some scholars Negative Romanticism. Negative Romanticism appears as a counter to modern society in other cultures such as early 20th century Japanese writers unsatisfied with the nature focused literature of Japan. But how does Negative Romanticism and these techniques of catering to a reader’s tastes connect with Poe’s mass appeal. To understand this I looked outside America to research Poe’s popularity in Chinese and Japanese Literature.

Other scholars focus on Poe’s appeal in a post 19th century world as an outlet for those that feel isolated in the industrialized world. My research project will focus on Poe’s popularity correlating with his use of human qualities of terror, sadness, and isolation in the unknown of his works. I will examine how these elements appeal to an audience that feels isolated and unconnected to the modern world. My research will attempt to find a relevance between Poe’s work and his popularity among those discontent with the other literary outlets. I will use the struggles of Poe’s life and his failures in his time as well as his financial problems as an example of his personal discontent. I will use this to relate to his world’s appeal to others discontent with life. I will use my research of Poe’s influence in China during its different periods of struggle with modernization in the early 20th century, the rise of communism, and the modern 21st century and China’s place as an economic superpower. I will also examine Poe’s influence on Chinese horror stories to directly correlate this appeal and popularity. As mentioned earlier with Japan being an outlet for Poe’s appeal, I will also examine the various works and how Poe’s popularity influenced these writers. I will argue the connection between his appeal and his ability to entertain and provide an alternative in a the uneasiness of the industrialized world I hope to find a connection between his use of Negative Romanticism and his popularity among foreign and domestic audience’s as well as the writers of China and Japan. In the end I hope to see Poe as more than a “Gothic” writer and


Text Selection

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The fall of the House of Usher.

In this story our unnamed narrator goes to aid an ill friend, Roderick, at his house. The house is ill kept and vacant except for his friend and his sister. The two of them both suffer from some strange but different illness. The sister dies and is buried in a tomb below the house. The friend quickly spirals into a distressed state that culminates in his death when the falsely dead sister creeps into the room of the narrator and Roderick and the two siblings die together. The narrator is aghast at witnessing this and runs from the house.

This story in American Literature is known to be a prominent example of a Gothic tale. The story embodies key elements identified with Gothic Literature. These being a twisting of nature imagery and natural spaces, especially one’s associated with Transcendentalism. The story also covers the themes of isolation and despair. I read this story in my American Literature (207) course and was intrigued by the way the story manages a narrative path in an ambiguous and surreal style. I was also interested in the popular romance that people have with this sub-genre of literature and why it is so fascinating to readers and critics.

Poe is an iconic writer of poetry and short stories. I would like to explore why this genre has such a fascination with readers and how such a sub-genre style manifested during the transcendentalism movement. I think my research would help me understand Poe’s influences from the times he lived in to his continuation of a previous literary dialogue. Poe’s popularity will aid me in having a large number of resources to draw from. The difficulty will be having to digest and pinpoint the best selections to use.


Feb 9: Life

The Toolbox states that “life–whatever that may be, mean, or do in a particular context –is always inexorably subject to external practices of power,” (213). In the recent U.S. presidential elections the slogan “make America great again,” was used by the Trump campaign. How did the social power of this slogan appeal to your life? How do you think it appealed to the “life” of other Americans that may or may not support it?

Feb 7: Differences

Is race just a box you check on a government form? If I check Native American continuously will I become Native American in the eyes of others? The Toolbox states that “race is anything but natural and eternal. It is, on the contrary, quite profoundly social and political,” (191). How do you see race as a malleable concept used in current American society to establish a social or political structure and why do you think it is used in this way? What are the possible outcomes of this type of power structure on social class?