Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic Identity during the 19th Century

By Andres Rodriguez

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous American writers of all time. There is no question that a majority of people in America have learned something about Edgar Allan Poe. If not, here is brief background of Edgar Allan Poe. He was born on January 19th, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts. Early in his life, his mother passed away from disease and his father left him also. He also had two siblings in which his brother also died due to disease. He winded up an orphan where he was taken in by a wealthy tobacco merchant family. His foster father never took his writing talents seriously. He finally met the love of his life, Virginia, in which his inspiration and motivation to write stemmed from her. Unfortunately, his beloved wife passed away from the same disease as his mother and brother died from, Tuberculosis. He lived in poverty and heartbreak until his death in 1849. The point is, Edgar Allan Poe suffered from overwhelming heartbreak due to deaths and loss, commonly the themes of many of his poems and short stories, like The Raven.

“It has puzzled many critics, sometimes to the point of vituperation, that Poe stands simultaneously as the germinal figure of a central modernist trajectory and as much-acknowledged pioneer of several durable mass-cultured genres, detective fiction and science fiction, as well as certain modes of sensational or Gothic horror, which are today…”  (02.) – Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe

Arguably his most famous poem, The Raven, gives America a new identity in terms of 19th Century Literature. America was desperately trying to gain an identity that differs from British or even French Literature. Edgar Allan Poe gave American literature an identity by writing in a Gothic style. Jonathon Elmer, author of Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe, mentions Poe’s Gothic style by describing many of his other “mass-cultured genres” (02.) Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe. In The Raven, the narrator is sitting on a chair at midnight when he hears knocking sounds, he winds up opening his window to check it out and a raven fly’s into his room. The narrator starts to speak to the Raven and the Raven winds up speaking but only says “nevermore.”

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams of no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness have no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore?’ This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’  Merely this and nothing more.” 5th Stanza, The Raven.

The narrator in The Raven, mentions fear and “dreams of no mortal ever dream” symbolizes how the Gothic style of horror due to the Raven in the poem. The literal speaking of the Raven gives a Gothic symbol but the only thing the Raven says is “nevermore.” The narrator mentions “Lenore” which in second stanza, he mentions “the lost of Lenore.” The narrator also keeps asking questions to the Raven during the poem but the Raven only says nevermore. The narrator eventually loses his mind by the end of the poem because he knows his beloved Lenore will be “nevermore” than before. The narrators suffering from his deceased  loved and the fear stemming from the talking Raven makes the poem a Gothic theme of death and loss.

“Like everyone else, however, Poe’s life had highs and lows during which he responded appropriately. During periods of tragedy or loss, Poe experienced bouts with grief. In moments of injustice, Poe expressed righteous anger. On the whole, Poe’s life could be called happy. He had his share of disappointments and tragedies, but he also succeeded at his only real ambition—to become a significant poet.” (31.) – Evermore; Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe.

Like I said before, Poe experienced many deaths from loved ones throughout his life. Like Harry Lee Poe, Author of Evermore; Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe, mentions how like almost every other person, Poe suffered many tragedies throughout his life. Harry Poe does mention that his suffering made him into a very “significant poet.” Edgar Allan Poe created a Gothic identity in which differed from British Literature. American Literature gained a new Gothic identity in the 19th century from Edgar Allan Poe’s creative and imaginative writings.


Elmer, Jonathon. “Introduction: The Figure of Mass Culture.” Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe. Stanford University Press, 1995, pp. 2–3. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=gDcRQLLk45MC&oi=fnd&pg=PR10&dq=raven+edgar+allan+poe&ots=5nCaSG7hjy&sig=RU6xFxaai_axR7KeGFH6DM-sCCQ#v=onepage&q=raven%20edgar%20allan%20poe&f=false

Poe, Harry Lee. Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 4, 2017).

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York City, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2006.

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