Edgar Allan Poe

The Black-Cat Analogy

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“The Black Cat” by Aubrey Beardsley, 1894-1895. Illustrations of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A distinction between figurative and literal analogies is sometimes made by teachers of rhetoric, but we are better served to think of analogy as an intersection of the figurative and literal from which a healing insight might emerge.  The telling of a fanciful story can help to refigure a perilous reality to which we have become inured.  Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is just such a story when it is read as a figurative analogy to a troubled actuality. (more…)

A Tale of Conscience

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Byam Shaw’s illustration for Poe’s William Wilson in “Selected Tales of Mystery” (London : Sidgwick & Jackson, 1909) on the frontispiece with caption “A masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio.” (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting story of “William Wilson” (published in 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine) is a semi-autobiographical tale of conscience worth invoking in the midst of our present political struggles. It is a ghostly story of conquering one’s alter ego, of the demoralizing consequence of slaying the second, better self. It is told as a cautionary tale, the redemptive purport of which comes from reflecting on the consequences of one’s own avarice rather than projecting blame outward.

The bane of unacknowledged greed, lust, and ambition, which is at the heart of Poe’s tale, can be extended beyond the individual to implicate a nation. Indeed, William Wilson’s struggle with his doppelgänger might serve well as a parable for collective contemplation. Understanding his moral demise should prompt us to reclaim the spirit of the nation. (more…)