Insanity In Edgar Allan Poe

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Insanity is a form of disease whose victim shows no physical signs of illness. Insanity can take the form of obsession and consume its victim?s mind and entire being. In many of Edgar Allan Poe?s short stories, his characters possess this phantom illness. Poe keeps his readers conflicted about how his ?stable? characters possess a questionable mental state.[endnoteRef:1] Stories like ?The Tell-Tale Heart,? ?The Premature Burial,? ?The Oval Portrait,? and ?Berenice,? illustrate the very plague of insanity taking the form of obsession. Each protagonist is infatuated with either an inanimate object or an abstract idea which drives each over the edge. There are different extents a person will go to in order to satisfy his or her needs and desires. …show more content…
the narrator from ?The Oval Portrait? possess an obsession over an inanimate object. The narrator in this short story becomes enthralled by an oval portrait. The narrator is first introduced to a variety of paintings, and other decorations in the apartment of his valet. He has a candlestick lit in order to see the paintings and other decor and finds a book about all of the art. He reads this book all night long, but later decides to shift the lighting in order to improve his vision in the dark. This insignificant shift in lighting revealed the oval portrait. The narrator exclaims, ?I ran over in mind my reason for shutting them [his eyes] ?I again looked fixedly at the painting.?[endnoteRef:17] His obsession began to drive a spike between him and his wife. His wife felt inferior to his passion for art and the portrait, but when he asked her to pose for a portrait, she agreed to do so. Poe exclaimed, ?Yet she smiled on, uncomplainingly, because she saw that the painter? took a fervid and burning pleasure in his task?.?[endnoteRef:18] Because the narrator?s mind was encompassed entirely by the thought of the portrait (both his and the one he saw in the valet?s apartment), he failed to recognize the fact that during her stone-like pose, his wife had passed. [17: Poe 356.] [18: Poe …show more content…
Ability to control one?s impulses disappears along with his or her sanity. The most prominent disease in which Poe?s characters suffered from was monomania. Monomania best fits the description of a fixation or compulsion over a certain object. This illness is directly stated in ?Berenice? when the narrator openly admits that he is suffering from this disease. The narrator exclaims, ?This monomania, if I must so term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the attentive.?[endnoteRef:22] Whether it takes the form of stalking a target or forgetting of the existence of a loved one due to this possessive infatuation, many of Poe?s characters exhibit signs of obsession. Different characters hold different degrees of this monomania. Certain characters murder, some desecrate other humans, some drop everything and everyone, and some are buried by the obsession. The theme of obsession in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe portray the consequences of succumbing to human whim and how it can take full control of your mind if one lets it. Due to Poe?s centrality of insanity throughout his short stories, the theme which stands out the most is obsession. [22: Poe

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