Monday, April 16, 2012

English Lit 201 Project [Elizabeth Prince]

 "The Black Cat", one of Poe's most famous works, is one of the most controversial pieces that he's ever written.  Poe explored many inappropriate topics and this story was no exception.  "The Black Cat" included the very upsetting topics of murder and animal abuse. "The Black Cat" has lived on and is still one of the greatest stories in Gothic literature today.  Poe has been described as a poetic genius and many poets in today's times can still not even compare to his amazing work.  But how was it possible for him to be THAT good at poetry? 

The only way to truly understand one's works is to partially understand the individual themselves.  Poe was a Boston, Massachusetts local and was born in the year of 1809.  This would have been an amazing time in history because it would have been after the American Revolution and before the Civil War.  Poe believed he was born to be a writer and that the gift had been passed down to him from his mother, Elizabeth, during birth.  She died when he was still a toddler, three years old, and Poe was said to try to find an ideal woman to replace his memory of her.  His father abandoned him soon after and young Poe was taken into foster care.  Poe then moved to England and progressed in writing.  At eighteen, Poe enlisted in the army and spent two years in this field.  In 1842, Edgar, who was now married, found that his wife had busted a blood vessel and her health began to fade.  She then died soon later and he engaged again to Sarah Whitman.  However, the engagement was called off.  Because Poe saw much death in his forty years, his poetry mostly reflected death (Minor).  Even though Poe did have a hard life, at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville he was well-liked.  He studied many languages and was very good at sports and gymnastics (Benfey).  It has been concluded that Poe liked to disguise himself as the narrator.  Poe was found lying outside of  a pub in Baltimore on the sidewalk.  He was admitted to the hospital and died three days later.    Though Poe's cause of death is unknown, it is rumored that rabies and alcohol poisoning were very possible factors.  Like in the story, Poe would got bitten by an animal to receive this awful disease.  It was known that Poe was a huge cat lover and could be concluded that one of his pets bit him (Shea).       

While there are no apparent different races or ethnicities in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”, there is a relationship between man and animal. In the beginning, the narrator is described as “a sensitive child, alienated from others by virtue of his sensitivity, who turned to animals for companionship.” This is referred to as a “ peculiarity of character” and hints that there was something odd about his feelings toward animals (Matheson 6). In the story, he mentions his fondness for animals and the fact that he had several pets, including birds, goldfish, rabbits, a dog, a monkey and the infamous cat. The relationship early in the story between the narrator and his cat is one of mutual love. He says that the cat, Pluto, was his favorite pet and playmate and that the cat followed him everywhere he went. As the story progresses, the narrator’s feelings toward the cat, as well as his other pets, begins to change and he treats him poorly when he is drunk. One particular night, he returns home and feels as though he has been slighted by Pluto. He snatches him up and Pluto bites his hand. The narrator becomes so enraged that he cuts out one of Pluto’s eyes. The relationship between the man and his cat is forever changed and now Pluto despises him. The narrator ends up hanging Pluto from a tree to rid himself of the evil he feels toward the cat. (Poe)  The narrator and his wife's love for animals can also indicate both had a mental disorder.  Though love for animals is common, the narrator feels for the animals in almost a "perverse manner".  The narrator seems to have suffered a traumatic experience in his childhood years and now faces being socially awkward and permanently scarred.  It can be inferred that his father beat his mother, since it has been said that children often will act like their parents. Some of these actions may have also been the result of a mechanism of defense.  If the narrator had been abused himself, then he would feel as if he needed to stick up for himself when he was in trouble later.   This could also explain the love that the narrator feels for the animals.  He is trying to find love that he has never been able to feel during his childhood.  The narrator, just like in many of Poe's story, is unreliable.  There are many gaps in the story and many events that take place that have no time frame.  The reader cannot tell if these events are scattered or are happening very close together.  The narrator also feels as if he is being possessed by the spirit of the black cat during most of these events.  This indicates that the narrator is not mentally sane enough to tell a story precisely and accurately   (Poe's "The Black Cat" as Psycho biography: Some Reflections on the Narratological Dynamics).      
In the story, “The Black Cat,” we are introduced to the narrator and his wife. They share similar personalities and a mutual love for animals. They seem to have a very happy life in the beginning, until the narrator begins to suffer the effects of his alcoholism and tendency toward evil. As he grows “more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others,” he begins to verbally abuse and, later, physically abuse his wife (Poe).  Poe, in an essay, is described by taking a new form.  This form is one of pure evil.  His mind becomes infatuated with feeling the love he once felt from his first cat, and with the pleasure of having a companion (Ki)

On the surface, this story seems to focus more on the male gender, but upon deeper examination, it seems that the narrator is more aligned with the feminine gender. His feminine traits are apparent in his sensitivity and his maternal relationship with his pets. By becoming aggressive, the narrator is performing “a kind of hyper masculinity that manifests itself in increasingly horrific acts of violence” (Bliss 96). Although the narrator is married, which establishes his masculinity, he seems to have failed as a husband, who is supposed to be the provider for the family. His obvious unemployment gives light to the fact that he fails in the role. The married male is also expected to be a father. The narrator and his wife are childless and have only pets to show as a result of their relationship. The fact that the man is both childless and jobless indicates his “inability to meet biologically and culturally determined gender expectations” (Bliss 97). After each act of violence, the narrator speaks of “Man,” as if he wants to reinforce the fact that he is male.  This was a common feeling during the time that Poe was writing.  The two personalities that the narrator possesses could indicate to being bipolar, which would often lead to anger problems (  (Poe's "The Black Cat" as Psycho biography: Some Reflections on the Narratological Dynamics).                          
When the next cat begins to irritate the narrator, he “resorts to more violence in order to reassert his threatened masculine power”. This violence ends with the murder of the narrator’s wife (Bliss 98). This act temporarily erases all trace of his feminine traits. When the police come to search his residence, he tries to act very manly and, in doing so, disturbs the cat who he unintentionally buried with his wife. In the end, he is “left weak, faint-hearted, and emasculated” (Bliss 98)  After murdering his wife, the narrator seems to feel no remorse.  He mentions feeling more guilty over the cat's death than he does murdering his own wife.  The narrator almost seems to appear that he never realizes what exactly he's done.  He remains calm and content about her murder, while being in a cautious state of paranoia about murdering the animal.  Throughout the story, it is almost as Poe makes murder and domestic abuse to humans okay.  He does not describe in detail the awful topics that he should focus on, but concentrates more on the events that are not as awful.  (Poe's "The Black Cat" as Psycho biography: Some Reflections on the Narratological Dynamics)
The only hint of class status in “ The Black Cat” occurs when the narrator tells about his wife going with him “into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit.” He does not speak of why they are impoverished, but the reader is left to assume that it could be because of the fire, which destroyed their previous home or maybe the fact that he spends his money at the bars, because of his alcoholism.
The question of why Poe chose a narrator who was an alcoholic may be answered by looking at his personal experiences with liquor. “Although not a heavy or even a frequent drinker, there can be little doubt that drinking was behind many of the misfortunes and setbacks Poe suffered throughout his life” (Matheson 1). Poe was dismissed from several jobs, lost out on a potential political position, and suffered a broken engagement due to his inability to handle his liquor.  Even today, heavy drinking is strongly supported in society.  In a recent study, it was proven that teenagers and adults are not truly aware of how much they are drinking. It condluded that the more someone is social, will drink more in his or her lifetime.  It also states this is the same case with how many friends an individual has.  As every one is surely aware, large amount of alchohol consumption can lead to behavioral changes.  For some people, drinking can lead to anger.  It can also lead to situations being handled differently then they would have been when the person was sober (Pape).   
 There is also the fact that alcohol-related literature was very popular in the 1830s.  “Over 12 percent of the novels published in America in the 1830s dealt with temperance” (Matheson 1). Though past generations had treated alcoholics with disdain, a new attitude had been forming and people began to feel as though any evil done by a drunkard was due to the alcohol and not any evil within the drunkard. Poe obviously disagreed with this philosophy as he includes sufficient inconsistencies in the narration to allow his readers to see through the excuse that the alcohol made him do it and show that in reality he was “a cold-blooded and sadistic killer who in the last analysis is guilty as charged” (Matheson 5).


Ki, Magdalen Wing-Chi. "Diabolical Evil and “The Black Cat”." Biography Reference Bank (H.W. Wilson). Print.

Bliss, NN. V. Household Horror: Domestic Masculinity in Poe’s THE BLACK CAT. University of California, Merced: Heldref Publications, 2009.

Matheson, T.J. "Poe's 'The Black Cat' as a Critique of Temperance Literature ." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Vol. 196. Detroit: Gale. From Literature Resource Center. (2008): n. page. Print.

Minor, Mark. Biography of Edgar Allen Poe. Critical Survey of Poetry, 2nd Revised. Pasadena, CA: 2003.
Benfey, Christopher. "Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance." The New Republic 24 Feb. 1992: 38+. General OneFile. Web. 16 Apr. 2012.<>

Shea, Christopher. Rabies, not alcoholism, may have killed Poe. Chronicle of Higher Education. 43. Washington: 1996. Web. <

Poe's "The Black Cat" as Psychobiography: Some Reflections on the Narratological Dynamics. Studies in Short Fiction . 2. 1998. 153-167. 
Pape, Hilde. Young people's overestimation of peer substance use: an exaggerated phenomenon?. Society for the Study of Addiction. 107. 2012. 878–884.

Picture Sources

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How sexual are Whitman's poems?

Walt Whitman is a very well-known poet in American Society.  He is said to be the father of free-verse, even though he did not create it (4). He is well-known for writing many poems that are related to different issues.  One of these issues that he wrote about was death, “O Captain! My Captain”.  Another issue he wrote about was singing, “I Hear America Singing”. His poems really seem to liven up the senses and make you feel as if you can taste what is going on in his poetry.  What a few may not know, however, is that Whitman’s poetry is very controversial in past society and in present society.  Included in these topics is the topic of homosexuality, the infatuation with same-sex relationships.  He was indeed the first poet to publicly touch the theme (2).  It is still debatable if the poems about these topics should even be read even. However, they most certainly are read today. 

It has been argued many times that Whitman was bisexual or a homosexual.  He was rumored to have a relationship with a man named Peter Doyle.  Doyle was a bus driver and the two men were inseparable for years.  Doyle once made a claimed that he still had”the kiss of Walt Whitman still on his lips," (4) which made the rumor appear to be true. Whitman also wrote of many men that he had “slept with” in his notebooks (7).  From some of his poems, it seemed that Whitman envisioned a world where same-sex was allowed (1). 

Something that Whitman is most famous for writing is a book of poems entitled “Leaves of Grass”.  He spent his whole life reediting the book, never finding it completely perfect.  This book was soon appraised by Emerson, which helped gain him publicity.  Whitman gave the two relationships in the book the names, “amativeness" for man-woman love and "adhesiveness" for "manly love".   In this book he taught that the body is beautiful, and that sex is beautiful (3). However though this book received praise from a few authors, it was very disliked all around.  People called the book "trashy, profane & obscene” due to the sexual theme (4).  In this book, Whitman defined sex as an “essential spiritual experience” (3). Many of these poems held the same sexual ideas, such as in “A Woman Waits for Me”.  The word “sex” is counted in this poem numerous times (8).  One poem, “We Two Boys”, describes the two same-sexed figures to be holding hands and cuddling (5).  In “Calamus”, Whitman uses the calamus acornus plant to symbolize gay love (7). A few more poems, unfortunately, even go into more detail expressing what some would even call “pornographic literature”. 

During the Civil War times, homosexuality was considered a “vile disease”.  From my knowledge, I know that many homosexual men were locked up in insanity areas or even sometimes killed.  However, he was unashamed of this fact, and stated that this “germ” lived in every breast” in the human body (6).    Today, homosexuality has begun to become more accepted in society (2).  This may be credited to Whitman’s works.  It has come a long way from Civil War times. 



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How common are intra-familial relationships and how harmful are they?

How common are intra-familial relationships and how harmful are they?


Being from the south, we hear many offensive jokes about “incest”.  Today it has appeared to be very socially unacceptable, and is illegal in most states.  However, though parental incest has been illegalized (as it should be) there have been few states that still allow cousins to be married (7).  When reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s life, I learned that he did just that.  His wife, thirteen year old Virginia Clemm at the time of their marriage, and Edgar were first cousins.  Her early death, dying at only 25, has been rumored to even inspire some of his stories (1).  Though Poe is a primary example of marrying within the family, he is not the only one known to do so.  Other famous examples as Jessie James and his first-cousin wife, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Thomas Jefferson and his third cousin, Albert Einstein and his second cousin, and Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin Myra (7).  Incest has also been popular in important movies, such as when Oedipus sleeps with his mother unknowingly (3). It is true that marrying inside the family was much more acceptable before and in the Victorian ages.

Poe and his wife

Just how common is this?

                It has been recorded that incest occurs in 30 percent of people across the world.  However, these are only cases that have admitted and some cases are kept in the dark.  It was reported that males were more likely to express being victims of this than girls (5).  If we include marriage between first cousins, then incest is very common.  I found on one website, that “half the US states will marry first cousins”.  Whether first cousins or not, it has been found that we at least know one person who has been part of incest whether we know it or not.  During the last two centuries, it has been shown that sexual child abuse happened more than we’d expect.  Many sleeping arrangements placed children in the beds with parents and sometimes had a negative impact (4).  Dreams consisting of incest are even said to be common and shouldn’t bring you much alarm.  These dreams could just be results of deep appreciation for a relative, not a crush (6).  Thankfully, in a study it was found that we are not attracted to people who look like ourselves (8).     


Charles Darwin’s Marriage

Charles Darwin and his wife

Like Poe, Charles Darwin is also another candidate of marrying a first cousin, Emma Hedgewood.  It is been discussed that he may have also a product of this.  Charles’s children fell sick very often.  Charles thought that maybe this was actually due to the inbreeding.  His daughter Anne was a result of being ill and died during her childhood.  Inbreeding has occurred long before the date of 1860.  However, it wasn’t until then that scientific studies were made showing that inbreeding actually had harmful effects.   Charles, being concerned for his children as well as his own life, went on to study this as well.  A study, on inbreeding in Scotland, concluded that 44 percent of children of incest were mentally impaired and that six percent were deaf.  Others argue that there is always the risk of having a child with a mutation.  It has been concluded, though, that inbreeding with family members has doubled the risks (2).

Sources (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What were two early forms of slavery?

What were two early forms of slavery?
Slavery  has been noted in many civilizations in Europe and America.  Even today, it continues to exist even though it is illegal.  Some view the relationship between bankers and those in monetary debt as a slave system.  The people who are in debt slave over paying it back and give up their processions to do so.   Sex slaves are still present in all countries, mainly in Asia.  Corrupt parents may sell their child into this type of slavery for money against the child’s will.   It has almost been described as human nature, however how sad it may be, to want to have complete power over other humans to the point of serfdom.  The most talked about is the form of manual labor.  This type of slavery can be found in ancient Rome and in the Aztec empire (1).

Slavery in ancient Rome was viewed at as natural, and was never questioned by anyone as being wrong (6).  Slaves, like many others, in Rome were used for farming on plantations.  The amount of slaves in Rome was roughly about 25% to 40% percent, which equaled the amount of freedmen (7).  Slaves consisted often of prisoners of war (8)(7), or unwanted children (6), and were taken just because of simple greediness.  The Roman belief is that slaves were living dead.  They were considered dead, but were spared from actually dying (6).  Therefore they did not have worth.  Even though race did not play a big part in slavery, it did play a role in which task a certain slave was assigned.  Barbarian slaves were often assigned tasks that required a lot of strength and endurance.  The master of the household determined how a slave would be treated (7).  Slaves, who were treated the most poorly, consisted of those who worked in mines (6)(8).  Some slaves were even privileged enough to be considered part of their master’s family and been seen as a pet (7).  Slaves could also be socially reborn into higher stature (6).

Slavery played a large role in the Aztec culture as well.  The Aztec class system was divided into three parts:  the emperor on top of the class pyramid, priests and nobles in the middle of the pyramid, and merchants, craftsmen and servants at the very bottom (2).  Unlike in America, slavery did not discriminate into one race.  Most Aztec slaves, who wore very little clothing (5), were criminals who were being punishment.  Other slaves were just so poor (2)(4) that they did it just to keep food in their mouths.  Another percentage of slaves were just captured or in debt (3)(4).  Aztec slaves commonly had to harvest corn (3) and farm.  Unlike African American slavery in America, Aztec slaves were granted marriage and possession of property (2).  Slaves could also have children and not worry about them being enslaved as well (2) (4). Slaves that did not do good work or were hated by their masters would be sold.  Before the slave could go to market, they would have to be publicly beaten three times. (2). 



Aztec Slavery

Roman Slavery


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What symbolism does Irving use in Rip Van Winkle and Legend of Sleepy Hollow?

From generation to generation, Washington Irving has been a favorite in American Literature.  He was credited with being the first to use Gothic themes as well as describe American geography perfectly (4).  We must admit that when we read Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, we get an eerie feeling and begin to realize we are glued to our seats.  We bite our nails with each sentence we read and wonder what will happen next.  Washington Irving creates this reaction by many important literature elements, such as symbolism.  (Both stories are basely found on Dutch culture, which was true since New York was a Dutch colony (6)).

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a tale that can be associated with evil, terror, and the triumph of hero versus villain.  It also has a very superstitious theme (3).  This story is often read on Halloween since it is importantly a ghost story.  Symbolism can be seen within the two main characters of Ichabod Crain and his love Katrina.  Throughout the story Ichabod is constantly trying to find his "other half", Katrina.  He is intelligent and holds the profession of schoolteacher.  Therefore, one could say that Ichabod would resemble the opposite Headless Horsemen; he had a head, but not the body (2).  He could also be compared by his awkward appearance and high ego. This would also resemble Ichabod's missing body.  In the battle of the Headless Horsemen, both Ichabod and the horsemen struggle.  This could be because each are wanting the body part that they are missing.      

In the classic tale of Rip Van Winkle, symbolism plays a big role.  Rip Van Winkle's tale can be divided into two main parts: Pre-Revolution, and Post-Revolution Irving describes in this story the land before the war and after.  He implies that there is a huge comparison which leads Rip, surprised, to know he is in another time.   This could symbolize the American’s view on their new home.  They are seeing their land through different eyes due to the hard battle they have faced (4).     Rip's wife seems to be put into play by another symbol.  The irony is that the two are married yet Rip seems to loathe her beyond belief.  One could compare this to America's relationship with England before the revolution.  Though some colonists were bound to England because it was their homeland, they loathed the taxes and treatment that England gave them.  Some fictional symbols are how Rip describes the mountains.  He describes them as "far down, deep, wild, and lonely".   Rip in the story could be described as this as well as a drunkard who always puts another before his family (1).  Rip, upon wakening, also spots an eagle.  This symbolizes the freedom that America has gained (5).       




Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What roles did white women play in the 19th century?

What roles did women play in the 19th Century?
by Elizabeth Prince

Women in the 19th century were not granted many rights.  This idea is made clear in Margaret Fuller's, The Great Lawsuit, which raised great awareness of how women were being unfairly treated throughout the 19th century.  They were seen as inferior to the male race, (1,5) and could not publicly speak or were not really allowed to have an opinion on anything political.  A young woman was treated usually no more or no less than an object, or property (1,5) to a man.  Women were usually not allowed to be ministers, vote, own property, or own any personal possessions.  Anything that "belonged" to the woman was actually in her husband's name (1). It was very seldom that women even received a higher education if they finished high school.  During the 19th century, women were usually to fulfill one of two type roles: become a housewife, or work in the factory.


Middle class women during the early 19th century were really given one option, being housewifes.  These women were not allowed to work, and spent much of their time knitting and sewing clothes for themselves, their husbands, and their children.  A middle-class woman was often taught to read, write, and do arithmetic.  Sometimes, if the woman was lucky she would also be taught a foreign language or history as well (1)Cooking was a constant hassel as well for a woman.  She would have to prepare everything by hand and make three meals a day (2).  The cooking was done on a coal stove and was very difficult.  House chores were to be performed if no maid was present (6).  Women would also have to take care of children and teach their daughters their housewife duties (5).

Factory Worker

Many women during the 19th century worked in factories just so they could provide their families with daily, or even an every other day, meal.  Commonly, these women would work in clothing factories, working sewing machines all day long without breaks.  Women would work in very hazardous conditions and often prick these fingers or even lose them from the machines.  By 1850, fifteen percent of American women held jobs.  Factory owners would often hire the women just so they could give the women lower pay and save money to buy utensils (2).  Sometimes they would even do this just so they, the owners, would have more money for themselves.  One example of a large factory where women could work is the Lowell Textile Mill, which employed around 10,000 women (4).

Other Positions
If a woman was not a factory worker or housewife, she was most likely a seamstress, nurse, or laundress.  These would have been the higher paying positions.  If a woman was in the upper class rank, she would help raise a plantation (4).

Important Women

Women's rights

One of the most important women during this time frame was Susan B. Anthony.  With the help of the National Woman's Suffrage Association, women earned the 15th amendment.  The war against men and women had finally began to end and women could now vote (5).


Written Sources


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What kind of impact did Thomas Paine have on the American Revolution? - Elizabeth Prince

The date was 1783 and the hope for independence filled minds of thousands of newly named "Americans".  It was not long until they recieved news that the war was over and that they were no longer Great Britian's citizens.  Tears of happiness spread throughout the colonies, for there were no more high tariffs to be paid and everyone could finally live by their own rules.  All those brave soldiers had finally claimed what they deserved, freedom.  This year marked one of the most important days of our country's history and is still celebrated today.  This event was the ending of The American Revolution.  But who could have had such a great influence of these people to persuade them to fight against their own neighbors, family, and friends?  The answer is the writer Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine was not aware of what Common Sense would become while writing it.  It was written on January 10, 1776 and had a large number of 600,000 copies in America.  Almost one third of the population had read or came in contact with this book. (3) It was published anonymously in the fear that Paine could possibly get beheaded for writing such a treasonable thing. For many it became an anthem of the problems America was facing with Great Britian.  It was stated by "Covenant People" that Common Sense was "by far the most influential tract of the American remains one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language." It gave them motivation to do something about what was happening rather than to just sit back and take it. (4) It was written in an easy format and instead of "fancy" or "flowery" words, it was not hard to read. It was written to apply to anyone who wanted to read it no matter of class. (2) The book was 79-pages long and it's purposed was to question English monarchy and the English Parliament. In regards to the monarch, Paine stated that "For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever.” (6) He claimed that the king was not trustworthy and that Americans should keep a watchful eye over his actions. (1) This book told how to fix things, and claimed that the English were "harmful to Americans".  It named all the pros of breaking apart from England.This book has been  deemed the "spark" of the Revolution.  It's vital success gave rise to the "Declaration of Independence" which was written six months later (5).

Not only did Thomas Paine write, he was also a soldier in Washington's army and contributed to the war effort.  He quit school at an early age of thirteen and held various jobs.  However, his big break came when Benjamin Franklin encouraged Paine to come to America.  Taking his advice, he did.  He wrote for the Pennsylvania Press and later become editor and discovered that he had talent and that writing was his muse. No matter his success, Paine died lonely, however, shunned away. He had roughly six people attend his funeral (5).