Edgar Allan Poe and Hawthorne: Theme of Insanity

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American authors, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, are both known for their dark and macabre work in literature. Although there are many themes that can be associated with these authors, such as death, mystery, and love, the theme of insanity is evident in their stories as well. Insanity seemed like a theme that was less widely used to compare the works of authors during this class and had opposed the theme of nature and religion, which you probably have read a lot about.

The psyche of the characters in the stories all have something in common, which is the way they are presented individually. The style of the author’s writing can support these claims of the theme of insanity that can be sensed throughout the work of both writers.

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Theme of Insanity. The theme of insanity protrudes in the writing that we read in class by both authors. What I have read would fit into the theme of insanity, which is either as clear as a mental illness, madness, or paranoia, or even simply irrational and just plain idiotic. Symptoms of psychotic behaviors, such as insanity, include disorders such as paranoia, excessive fear, worry, and anxiety; delusions and hallucinations, and social withdrawal. From Edgar Allan Poe’s work in The Raven and Annabel Lee to Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown and Wakefield.

For example, the narrator in The Raven obviously was paranoid of the bird and could hear the bird talk. Mr. Wakefield left his family to see his life from the next street over which is just irrational and odd. Goodman Brown believe to have seen staffs move, multiple “God-fearing” people, including his loving wife in a witch meeting. In Poe’s Annabel Lee, her significant other was deeply in love and even after her death, he was obsessed with her and laid with her in her tomb. The acts and behaviors that is portrayed by these characters are apparent signs of insanity. Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe is famously known for his dark and mysterious work in literature up until his death which was all quite mysterious. His childhood could have impacted and inspired his literature. His father was an alcoholic and was abandoned by his mother by the age of three. Although he was adopted into the wealthy Allan family, his stepmother also died and he was left all alone again in his adult life in poverty, addiction, alcoholism, and with mental illness. Later in life, his wife had died and he remarried to his cousin until his mental stage declined and died only at the age forty. The death and absence of a female presence can be found in his work. The character in The Raven experiences heartbreak of his lost love, Lenore. This could have probably let him into insanity and created the delusions of a bird talking and caused him to have paranoia. In Annabel Lee, the narrator says to have been deeply and madly in love with Annabel Lee even at a young age. Her death couldn’t even keep him away from her and he laid with her in her tomb, which is very disturbing and mad.

The brokenheartedness and acts that follow that are seen in these stories can be explained by the lack of a loving female presence in his life. This itself can cause many problems mentally, and emotionally. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born and lived in Salem, Massachusetts who he described it as haunting because of it’s infamous past. His father was a sea-captain that had died of yellow fever and his mother had moved them to live in Salem with his grandparents, uncles, and aunts. He has puritan ancestors and a judge who participated in the Salem witch trials of 1692. (LEVINE 329) Hawthorne’s works like Young Goodman Brown, Brown lives in Salem as well and encounters demonic and supernatural moments which causes him to question his reality. He enjoyed reading literature and pursued writing when he got older even though most boys his age would have gone to medical or law school. His writings hadn’t became published till much later and he struggled to make a living off his work and had even to move in back with his mother and sisters when had gotten married and had a child. Hawthorne’s own need to defy the norms in his day seem to be evident in Wakefield because of how the main character leaves everything all behind to do what he wanted, which was to see how his absence would affect the people he left behind. Hawthorne’s work in literature can be described as completely psychological and dark, and that it is shown in both stories of how the mentality of the characters are questioned and challenged. Wakefield. In Hawthorne’s Wakefield, the writer asks, “What sort of man was Wakefield?” (HAWTHORNE 335) who is the protagonist. Mr. Wakefield lives a privileged and simple life with everything he can possibly ask for such as children, a wife, and a job. He seems to be a normal man that doesn’t have any oddities. He then informs his wife that he will be leaving for a few days out of town and to expect him for supper on Friday evening only to leave and settle a street away. He abruptly decides to leave his life and everything in it all behind only to stay at an apartment on the next street and watch life pass him by.

This irrational behavior can point to Wakefield contributing the the theme of insanity because he simply walks away from his life and responsibilities to see how life proceeds without him without thinking how this might affect his family and others. He doesn’t even return when his suspects his wife sick when she is seen by a physician. This selfish behavior exceeds for the next twenty years and his “actions are driven by his narcissistic need to convince himself of his own worth. ” (SPENGLER 58) He fears that someone may notice him and disguises himself. At one moment, he meets his wife and their hands touch and all the strong feelings he still has doesn’t cause him to go back to his old life.

When he cries out, “Wakefield! Wakefield! You are mad!” (HAWTHORNE 359) this helps us understand that he himself knows the inanities he has done and how far he has gone to complete them is absurd. To completely fall off the grid and yet be in the same neighborhood is preposterous. At the end, he returns and lives out the rest of his as if nothing happened. The whole story of Wakefield is completely odd and insane, no doubt about it. Young Goodman Brown. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown shows how the main character Goodman Brown was a simple and hopeful God fearing man and how a meeting in the forest completely changed his perspective of his world and how that affected him to live the rest of his life in gloom. Brown seems to be naive and believes that the people he knows, such as his family, especially his grandfather, have no secret lives or ulterior motives. and others such as Goody Cloyse, a Christian women, the deacon, Gookin, and church-members of the Salem village. He encounters a traveler where he thinks his staff resembles a snake which seems to twist and wriggle like a real snake This can be an example of a symptom of insanity where he may experience delusions of a stiff staff seems to be an alive serpent.

Then on his way to the meeting, he believes to have seen his wife, Faith, and even saw her at the assembly where they looked at each other “trembling before that unhallowed altar” (HAWTHORNE 353). The next day, he was “staring around him like a bewildered man” (HAWTHORNE 354) and looked differently at Goody Cloyse and deacon Gookin, and even looks negatively towards his wife. He then begins to question himself whether the witch meeting was all a dream. Hawthorne ends the story with sharing how Brown had lived his last days hopeless and that his “dying hour was gloom” (HAWTHORNE 354) and his gravestone had no verse carved into it. Goodman Brown was a hopeful believer who loved God until his encounter in the forest which led him to began questioning everything he had known. He believed to see a staff move like a serpent and multiple churchgoers and family members in a witch meeting. He even speculates if anything he had witnessed in the forest really happened which can explain that he most likely had delusions or hallucinations (251 PREDMORE). He had suffered from worry and anxiety he because spent the rest of his life believing that the people who laid the law of God really worked for the enemy instead. He separated himself from his community and family saw his wife at that meeting and that caused him to alienate himself from her. Up until his last breath, he lived a hopeless life, believing everything around him isn’t what it seemed and he ended up being miserable and detaching himself from everyone because he no longer was sure of his reality. The Raven. Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, is widely known for its frightening and supernatural feeling.

The narrator is introduced to the reader to be tired and up late at night on December where he mourning the loss of his lover, Lenore. All of a sudden there is a persistent knock at the door that startles him and he eventually calms himself, “presently my soul grew stronger” (Line 19) to where he opens it up the first time and “Darkness there, and nothing more” (Line 24). In lines 25-30, he seems to be staring into the darkness and calls out Lenore into the darkness to have a mere whisper respond back. He even feels that “all my soul within me burning” shows that he seems to be in awful mental, physical, and emotional state. Eventually the bird is perched oh his chamber door and when the narrator asks the bird a question, the bird replies, “Nevermore” which shocks the man. The more questions the man asks the bird, the more insane he becomes and the bird continues to reply to him “Nevermore”. He begins to feel that the air had “grew denser” and “perfumed” (Line 79). He then sees angels swinging and hears the footsteps on the carpet (Line 79-80). This can be explained that he was most likely hallucinating when he begins to see and hear angels and smell the scented air suddenly. He then begins to yell at the bird and completely loses it when he asks the raven is he will ever see his Lenore again, and of course the bird only replies with “Nevermore” to which he then begins to chase after it, wanting it to leave. (Line 85) The fact that he is talking to a bird and the bird is replying to him considers him being very delusional because he is also arguing back with bird and tries to jump at it so it can leave. At the end of the poem, the last stanza, the man is a prisoner of his own hell and that he is within the shadow of the bust of Pallas. He states emotion of worry, anxiety, fear, paranoia, and sadness.

Overall, he is in complete mental breakdown with the loss of his love, Lenore. It is possible that he could have simply created the delusion of the raven because of the mental state he was in. His mental breakdown can be caused from the heartbreak from Lenore since he was weary and not in the best health. It could have caused him to argue with a bird, experience things with his senses and it eventually trapped him within his own prison that he believes is in the statue of Pallar where the raven continues to be there. Annabel Lee. Poe’s short poem, Annabel Lee, is a heartbreaking and tragic love story with a disturbing ending.

The narrator of Annabel Lee shares that when he and Lee were merely children, they were in love. He explains that their particular love is so strong because she knew nothing else than to love and be loved by him. He coveted her. They “. . . loved with a love that was more than love” (Line 9) which seems to reveal obsessive behavior. Then there was this wind that had sickened and eventually caused the death of Annabel and the narrator blames it on the angels who were “not half as happy in heaven” (Line 21) because they were envious of the two. Her death did not stop does not stop her significant other as he discloses that their love is stronger than anything and not even the angels in heaven or the demons in the sea can ever divide them apart. In the last stanza of the poem, the narrator claims he still dreams about her and more disturbingly lies down with her in her grave. The amount of love he has for her is excessive and obsessive. It is unhealthy and unreasonable to be so love with someone at a young age to be behaving to be in a serious adult relationship. It is especially entirely irrational and madly disturbing to lie down with her in her tomb. That just proves of how completely insane the narrator was.


The actions and behaviors of the characters in both author’s stories exhibit examples that can prove that there is a theme of insanity in their work. The childhood of Poe’s and Hawthorne’s can clearly be noticeable in their poems and stories. Poe’s memories of losing important female figures in his life seems like a reasonable explanation for the pattern of writing about a heartbroken man losing his significant other to the point where it drives them mad. The loss of female characters occur in Annabel Lee and The Raven where both men are left alone to deteriorate.

Hawthorne’s childhood of growing up in a haunting and oppressing place where the Salem Witch trials have occured is clearly visible in Young Goodman Brown, and the idea of adhering to society’s expectations is distinct in Wakefield. The theme of insanity can be used to express what the underlying subject is throughout the literary work of Poe and Hawthorne.

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