Survival and the guide in selected works of Edgar Allen Poe : a study of narrative voice and meaning



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An examination of Poe's use of the survival theme and. the nature of the guide as it occurs in selected tales. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and Eureka demonstrates that there are positive and formative values to be found throughout the works. Survival, a theme and major motif in Poe's varied canon, is more than remaining alive; it is the result of a direct confrontation with what Poe calls outre' events and implies a going-beyond or transcendence of the experience which is narrated. Within the context of Poe's works one may survive by following the lead of various characters or concepts which represent guidance. However, the narrator or protagonist must avoid ideas or figtires of false guidance, which is the equivalent of any notion or method leading to the exclusion of alternative possibilities. False guidance is treated seriously in works such as 'The Imp of the Perverse,' 'The Cask of Amontillado,' and 'The Oval Portrait,' and comically in 'The Angel of the Odd—Au Extravaganza,' 'Some Words with a Musay,' and others. One best succeeds in the quest for survival by internalizing the appropriate type of guidance. The complete assimilation of the concept of guidance into narrative consciousness occurs in Poe's works in the relatively late ''Thou Art the Man'' and Eureka, although movement towards It may be detected in the earlier 'The Han of the Crowd' and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. The guide figure and the guide concept are found also in certain works of Daniel Defoe, along with the theme of survival. Statements contained in Poe's critical documents attest to his awareness of the importance of narrative style, as well as his familiarity with Defoe's, works. Evidence suggests that Defoe may have provided an example for the survival -hone and a narrative method which Poe was able to develop further. A comparison of Poe's 'William Wilson' and Defoe's Colonel Jack reveals a shared concern with both guidance and survival, significant aspects of the plots of both works. However, Poe was able to go beyond the verisimilitude of Defoe; be assimilated and transformed the craftsmanship he found in Defoe's works. Analysis of 'Ms. Found in a Bottle,' 'The Devil in the Belfry,' 'A Descent into the Maelstrom,' 'The Oval Portrait,' and 'The Angel of the Odd—An Extravaganza' shows that there is an intricate relationship between first-person point of view, the theme of survival, and the concept of guidance. 'The Man of the Crowd' and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym illuminate more fully the relationship; the focus of both works is upon the narrator's consciousness, a discernible and growing entity as Poe portrays it. Both works demonstrate the manner in which narrative voice assuaes gradually the role of the guide for itself. The purpose of the gradual growth of guidance into narrative voice is the accomplishment of a return to 'the original unity cf the first thing,' or the 'absolute truth'—an undivided, unfragsented state, or the God Insanent in can. The narrative voice of Eureka epitomizes the undivided consciousness, which has assimilated fully the concept of guidance; accordingly. It illustrates the thesis of the work. In Eureka the law of periodicity ensures that the diffusion-fusion process which created the universe is ongoing. Because of this law, there exists the possibility of a return to the state of undivided consciousness, in vhich the guide- or God-principle is internalized by can. The law of periodicity guarantees both cosmic and Individual survival, one of Poe's most inportant concerns. The present study, therefore, locks beyond the annihilation which only appears to dominate Poe's major vorks; the survival there and the guidance motif implicitly and explicitly emphasize an affirmative view of man and cankind in the vorld of Poe's fiction.