Edgar Allan Poe and the American Mind Essay example

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Throughout the first half of the 19th century, America gazed at itself in a mirror and saw that it was good. As a beacon for democracy, the United States appeared to shine bright as the light of the world, demonstrating through the 1828 election of President Andrew Jackson that even a commoner from the countryside had the potential to rise to the top of the political hierarchy. On another level, under the growing success and influence of the Industrial
Revolution, the American people seemed to ascribe widely to the belief that nature could be conquered by man, that no danger posed by the natural world was beyond the salvation offered by human technology. And then there was the overarching vision of manifest destiny, the
nation’s
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As a microcosm of the divided psyche that plagued the national body as a whole, the individual minds of Poe’s narrators in short stories such as “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Oval Portrait” reveal some of humanity’s darkest tendencies, as the reader may note in the apparent madness and delusional obsessions that seem to define their beings and cloud their senses of intrinsic human morality. And yet, Poe chooses not to ostracize these individuals as extreme outliers to a norm.
Rather, by bringing the reader within the very minds of these characters as they construct their own stories, he succeeds in creating a separate realm of truth that is specific to the particular narrator alone, in which absolute fact is replaced with subjective experience and in which actuality becomes irrelevant. Therefore, inspired by the divided and contradictory nature of the early 19th century American conscience, Poe sought to delineate the subjective nature of truth that exists behind the brow of every individual alone and that is not shaped by what others would deem an objective “reality.” In effect, Poe implies that the reflection a person sees in a mirror comes not merely from reality; for that person, the reflection becomes the reality.
Even within the first few years of his life, a young Poe experienced certain hardships that would undoubtedly shape his development toward a lifelong theme of dissonance
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