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Edgar Allan Poe’s Influence on Literature Essay

Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on American literature was nothing short of great; not only was he the creator of the detective story and the horror thriller, but he also influenced many great writers, among those William Faulkner and Fyodor Dostoevsky. While Poe is best known for his horror thrillers, being the creator of that particular genre, he has also fashioned two other literary genres, like the detective and the science fiction genre. Throughout his life, Poe read, reviewed, and critiqued many books for various magazines and papers.

Poe did not hesitate to attack what he deemed inferior. “Is purely too imbecile to merit an extended critique,” he once wrote of a novel. Because of his readiness to attack what he believed to be unworthy, Poe helped set high standards for American literature (Meltzer 64). Poe had an influence on both American and non-American writers, like William Faulkner, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Faulkner, who is considered to be the South’s most renowned novelist, will be forever linked to Poe. Both writers were fanatically obsessed with what made mankind good and what made it evil.

Their writings also dealt with common elements, like narcissistic doubling, vengeance, and violence (Wyatt-Brown). In Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the incestuous relationship between two of the characters, Quentin and Caddy Compson, draws a parallel between Poe’s own incestuous relationship with his first cousin, Virginia (Wyatt-Brown). Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist, was also greatly influenced by Poe. Dostoevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment depicts a man who commits murder and becomes increasingly guilty throughout the novel because of it, until he is finally urged to confess by the woman he loves.

The novel’s plot was prefigured in Poe’s A Tell Tale Heart, which portrays a man who commits a murder and is driven insane by the guilt as he hears the heart beating from underneath the floorboards, where he had stored the body. Dostoevsky once declared that Poe: “almost always takes the most exceptional reality and endows it with such details that the reader is convinced of its possibility, of its reality, when objectively the event or situation is impossible. ” (Wyatt-Brown) Dostoevsky’s opinion on the matter relates exceptionally with Poe’s A Tell Tale Heart.

One would not believe the story to hold even a semblance of reality, as Poe has infused the short story with the most absurd of details that make it so obviously impossible; however, while reading one becomes entirely immersed in the story that it does not seem so absurd anymore. According to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the famous detective series, Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe is the father of the detective story (Meltzer 83). Doyle was of the opinion that Poe had covered the genre’s limits so completely, that he could not see how his followers could find any fresh ground of their own (83).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s very own character, Sherlock Holmes, was inspired by C. Auguste Dupin, the detective of the stories who began the detective genre (Binns 114). Among many of Edgar Allan Poe’s writings is The Murders in the Rue Morgue, one of the Dupin stories. This story was the first ever detective story to be printed, which made it the archetype for the modern detective story (Meltzer 83). Although The Murders in the Rue Morgue was the first ever detective story to ever see print, Poe did incorporate new elements into other works that writers of detective fiction still make use of.

For example, in The Purloined Letter and Thou Art the Man, Poe introduced post-mortem examinations, ballistic evidence, and the frame-up (104). Many believe Poe had begun the science fiction genre (Binns 114). His first attempt was Hans Pfall, a story in which a man travels to the moon on a revolutionized balloon. Poe included actual facts into his story, mixing it with entirely false scientific “facts” to make the story believable (Meltzer 64). Poe’s innovations would later expand the modern science fiction genre.

His vivid imagination veered off from scientific facts to create believable details to incorporate into his stories. These details anticipated later discoveries in both geography and astronomy (64). Science fiction writers like H. G. Wells and Jules Verne learned a great deal from Poe, which they integrated into their own writings. The belief that Poe began the science fiction genre may also be attributed to Poe’s complicated piece of writing which explained his own view of the universe.

Eureka: A Prose Poem was published in March of 1848, and in it, Poe introduced his theory, a mixture of science, theology, and intuition. Poe theorized that: “God existed before matter. God created the first atoms. They scattered to create the universe. They are all trying to join back together, but when they do, they will be scattered again. ” Poe’s theory caused an upset in society, as it was not Christian; however, others believed it to be brilliant, as it showed both insight and clear thought (Binns 100). Poe’s influence has not limited itself on just literature.

Alfred Hitchcock, director of classic suspense films like Vertigo and Psycho has stated that Poe was the reason he began directing films (Burlingame 100). And, as Hitchcock has become an influential being himself, with many other directors using elements from his films, Poe has indirectly influenced them as well. Aside from literature and films, Poe’s name and lyrics have been used among many musicians. Thirty Seconds to Mars uses a quote from The Raven: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. at the end of their video for Hurricane. The quote seems entirely fitting, as the video, which embraces some of Poe’s own elements, like vengeance and violence, is entirely surreal and evokes a sense of fear as they’re being pursued by masked men. However, they fight back, not letting the men take control of them, refusing to become martyrs. Like many of Poe’s writings, the video seems ambiguous, open for many interpretations. Although Poe has long passed away, he still continues to influence today’s society. Writers will continue to use the elements he created in their stories.

Film directors will continue to use his stylistic elements to portray a sense of Poe into their films. Musicians will continue to use Poe’s lyrics in their music, as well as use different aspects of his writings in their videos. Not only will Poe continue to influence them, but he will also continue to communicate with people through his works. People will continue to connect with Poe, just like previous generations have, through the themes of his writings, and through the understanding that Poe was just as misunderstood and criticized as the rest of us.


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