The Halloween in Poe
By Martha Mahoney
Halloween is a time of horror. It is a day and night, of mysteries, of ghost stories, and of the supernatural.
In these 24 Hollow hours of Eve, we are brought out of our square zones of comfort and into a place of eeriness, a place beyond normal. We excite our minds and thrill ourselves with haunted houses, spooky costumes and fake façades, to leap into a world of the unknown, a world that supposes the boogie man really is under the bed or that the shadow lurking in the room isn’t just darkness. Or, to Edgar Allan Poe, a world where a raven rather quoth than crow.
Poe is most well-known for his chilling tales and poems of death, the unusual, the mysterious, and the grotesque. An American author whose work is internationally celebrated, lived from 1809 to 1849. The peculiarity of Poe’s writing, other than superseding that of his contemporaries, is its penetrating incitement of the horror that lurks within the human mind.
Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” tells the story of an old man’s murder, as narrated by the murderer. The narrator describes his incentive for killing “the old man,” for his hatred of the old man’s one glassy, piercing blue eye. The narrator further describes his action of killing, sneaking into the old man’s room in the middle of the night, and squashing him under his own mattress. The narrator thereafter stuffs the dead corpse under the floorboards of his house.
Poe draws in the epic horror themes of homicide, midnight trespassing, wrath and sociopathic behavior in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Surging from a manic fit of ecstasy to an unbounding state of anxiety, the narrator ultimately turns himself in to the police. His confession, of course, resulting from his increasing paranoia that he can hear the beating of the corpse’s heart, and that it is audible for the police to hear.
“Berenice,” another haunting story of Poe’s, tells the tale of Egaeus, whose lifelong mental illness incurs his strange fascination with the teeth of his late cousin and fiancée, Berenice. Narrated by Egaeus, the story moves in the dismantled waves of his unstable brain, chronicling the years of his childhood and manhood spent inside the library of his forebears’ estate.
Poe’s tradition of eeriness and the unusual are revealed through the fatal illness which succumbs Berenice. As Egaeus describes, though Berenice’s physical beauty deteriorates evanescently, her teeth remain vitally and effervescently intact, and thus become the preoccupation of Egaeus’ obsessive mind. Upon Berenice’s passing and burial, Egaeus climbs down into her grave in a trance to obtain his sought-for 32 white treasures. He finds that Berenice has been buried alive, a revelation to his indifference, however, as his sole concern is to uproot all 32 of her teeth.
In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Berenice,” and many of Poe’s short stories and poems he brings his readers to a place of the unusual where supernatural events occur and anxiety of the mind persists, and a world that is hauntingly not much different than our own. The land of Poe’s horror is the land of our horror, it is the ever-present crack in the cornerstone of our existence that only our imagination can create and cultivate. Stimulating these dark alleyways in our mind, Poe’s writing emanates man’s entrance into his mind’s crypt.
Erecting the vaults of intrigue and terror our minds so well conceal, Poe captures the spirit of our anticipated holiday of Halloween.
On this day of the dead, we tempt our senses with fright and push our thrill-seeking thresholds to their deepest levels of fear, until the pounding of our hearts overcome the ticking of our watches and our tortured imaginations plead, nevermore.
So we console our riddled minds with candy galore, which at some point, our 32 sterling teeth demand, nevermore!