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All the stories of Poe’s set out on a fascinating journey into the depths of horror caused by extreme experiences of terror and loneliness. In his stories, he seeks to go beyond the terrestrial borders of the known quite vividly. In Poe’s own words, his heroes are the one whose attainment is synonymous with destruction. The man of the Crowd written by Edgar Allan Poe narrates the story of a nameless and lonely man who roams across densely crowded London. Thematically, the story deals with the questions of solitude, meaninglessness, and above all the sense of uncertainty. Poe breaks away from the conventional realms of the known in order to probe deeper into the mystery of the unknown. Moreover, the story is riddled with paradoxes, and ambiguities which make Poe’s readers even more curious to figure out the alluring unread ability of his text.
The reader of Poe finds himself in a state of delusion as the understanding he forms of the text is largely a result of misreading. The analysis of Poe’s text is not always a means to unearth the latent content. It is intended to expose what already lies at surface, that is to say, the impenetrability of the familiar. Reading Poe is just another way of confounding the familiar with the hidden.(Peeples, 2006) This is the paradox of his story.
The reader of the man of the Crowd has to confront such a paradox because he/she has no option other than to look for the hidden crimes of an old man who has become the “type and genius of deep crime” thus unable to escape the crowds of London. Not only the reader but even the narrator of the story goes through the same paradox and ambiguity.
It becomes almost impossible for the reader to peep into the identity, private history and motivations and psychological impulses. Even before being completely engrossed in the spectacle the reader upon entering the frame of text is confronted with the same due to the introductory quotations. The story begins with two confusion quotations, one explicit and other implicit. The text of the story appears so willfully over-determined that he seems to be announcing that his tales are ciphers which would be as good as giving the solution away at the start of the game.(Peeples, 2006)
Pope was certainly very fond of epigraphs and both quotations at the start of the story reaffirm his authorship and tendency to hanker after originality. Such a tendency makes his readers try and decipher his textual mysteries as unique and peculiar script for human anxiety and misery.
The coffee house in which the narrator sits to observe the throng moving back from work is located in one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city.
It is not the crow that stirs that peculiar “delicious novelty” on the part of narrator but his own mental state. He mistakes monotonous reality of metropolis for some unique and original in its own right. At this point, Poe attempts to represent two different versions of London. Firstly, the London is portrayed as an urban jungle in day light. But just when the people have retreated to their homes after dusk, it is the time that their faces become a subject of deliberation dominating the cityscape for the narrator. This is precisely because Poe wants to evoke the sense of ambiguity through his narrator.
The narrator, as stated above, has not yet fully recovered from his illness becomes obsessed with the man of the crowd and follows him around curiously all night. This, in plain terms, may be an act of stalking an absolute stranger but it does bring the changing nature of London into question and scrutiny.
The depiction of a coffee house, a crowded theatre, tenement housing, and a buzzing bazaar does not necessarily create an effect but it is the gas lamps and narrator’s mental state. Through the use of concrete language, Poe turns seemingly an ordinary situation into a terrible one. The setting is not as significant as the muse of the narrator. And it is of course the language of the narration which brings paradox and ambiguity into play.
The story is a truly a radical representation of looking and being looked. As a matter of fact the book of mystery does not allow itself to be read. The enigmatic and paradoxical introductory paragraph hints at the depravity and criminality of human nature. The intertextual moments described in the story shift the emphasis on the vision of misery from the crime. It is a transferral that desublimates the horrors of the confessional tales.
Poe infuses the sense of uncertainty to explore the mysteries of the unknown by shy away from the conventional adherence to the known. Such a shift of emphasis takes place due to Poe’s willingness to bring issues such as fear, terror of being alone, and doubt into question. It also makes allowances for him to wrestle with the questions, concerns and implications of the notions of the unified self and the spiritual unknown. One obtains a valuable insight into the allure of the known. It is rather left bare to the readers.
The story is open to different interpretations be it historical, Marxists or Freudian. The story may well be understood in light of its socio-political significance. Monika Elbert argues that the story is not about the evil as it is touted but a representation of the underlying political views of the time. (Bryan, 2008) The story can be seen as a true representative of American man in the mid-nineteenth century.
Put it this way, the story addresses the conflict between aristocracy and democracy. According to this standpoint, Poe broke away from the conventions due to his refusal to side with the prevailing political views of his time.
In a bid to confront political categorization, the narrator is overwhelmed with the sense of loneliness therefore “finds himself within the framework of the mob of gentility.” The narrator loses his focus after finding himself lost in the crowd because the political atmosphere is not appealing to him. Consequently, he begins to find pleasure in the activity of observing his surroundings.
He gives in to the dizzying appeal of democracy after falling foul of uniform and monotonous actions of the crowd. Such an attitude of the narrator may be traced back to the nineteenth century’s collective treatment of individuality in a democracy. Under the ambit of this criticism, it seems the narrator was actually representing Poe and advocating his ideas about the society he lived in.
The narrator forms a relationship of trust with the readers by gaining sympathy which comes with his illness in the first place. This serves him an important purpose. It allows him to maneuver his audience at his disposal. He first makes general observations about the mass majority and then gradually moves on to a closer scrutiny of an individual. With the progression of story, readers await every word of the narrator quite curiously anticipating the evil that lurks in form of the old man.
At this instance, Poe is making a very significant which has not grabbed the attention of many commentators. The narrator’s growing interest in the people of London and then his encounter with the old man is actually intended to disillusion the readers from the existing norms of the society. The narrator constantly makes use of abrasive and negatively connotative adjective to explain his surroundings such as promiscuous, tumultuous, infested, swarthiness, loathsome and rabid.
He successfully creates a world of evil and menace leaving his dependent on him for security. He transmits his own disapproval to the readers in a deft manner. He paints a dismal picture of the people he observes. This, in other words, reflects his refusal to buy into the socio-political reality and ideas of his time.
Poe described the new big-city bustle in the narrative environment study of 1840. This may also be analyzed a criminal plan - without any offender, victim and detective, but with the crowd as a collective hero and a stranger in their midst, "not a criminal, but the personified" the spirit of the crime.
Poe sensed here the "new excitement" by the city under the "flickering and glare," London's gas light by the transient experience of the mass in the labyrinth of streets and early department stores. He restlessly wanders the in the social wilderness, then wanders into a department store through the labyrinth of goods as before by the city and the quantity that they used as a veil. Comparing this "old man" Poe is actually running amok with other contemporary figures and social and political values.
This old man," Poe can sum up his first-person narrator, "the archetype of the lowest crime and the spirit are embodied. He refuses to be alone. He is the man in the crowd."
On the other hand, the story is a portrait of a fear of solitude.
On the other hand, the story is a portrait of a fear of solitude.
Brian R. Wall “Neither in Nor Out: Transatlantic Mutation in the literary development of Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde Brigham Young University, 2008
Peeples, Scott “The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe” Camden House, 2006
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