Comparing Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau
Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau were two very different authors, one was a mastermind of Gothic literature, while the other was a transcendentalist. One can understand Poe’s knack for stories like The Fall of the House of Usher because of his unprivileged childhood. His father deserted his family, and his mother died while Poe was very young (Wiggins 288). He also lived through constant poverty and suffered from depression, his only refuge being his wife, Virginia, who died when she was only 24 (Wiggins 289).
The work that will be used in this essay is The Fall of the House of Usher, which really touches upon Poe’s style of writing. It’s use of an extremely dark setting and the way it’s characters are portrayed really help explain this. Thoreau, on the other hand, was eccentric and independent as a child, and didn’t care about rules (Wiggins 377). He questioned authority as an adult, getting him into prison for a night for not paying his taxes to protest the Mexican-American War (Wiggins 388). His experiences at Walden Pond helped set the stage for the work that will be used in this essay, Walden.
This work reflects on Thoreau’s hopeful and virtuous style of writing. The concepts he presents about intuition and self-realization really support this. The styles of Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau are polar opposites because of the imagery that is evoked, connotation, and tone. The imagery evoked in the reader’s mind in The Fall of the House of Usher and Walden is very different. In Poe’s story, one of the first bits of this element presented is the actual house and it’s surroundings. It creates an unforgiving and bleak setting for the story. I looked upon the scene before me –upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain –upon the bleak walls –upon the vacant eyelike windows –upon a few rank sedges –and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees –with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium –the bitter lapse into everyday life –the hideous dropping off of the veil (Poe 294). ” The scene comes to life during this quote. The house isn’t just a conventional house anymore, but more of a prison.
Words like eyelike, decayed, depression, and hideous help create the house’s living nature for the rest of the story. In Walden, however, one can see a different form of imagery, one that isn’t meant to disturb the reader, but to inspire them and teach them. One of the lessons is especially how “still we live meanly, like ants, though the fable tells that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes (Thoreau 383). ” Words like ants and pygmies make the author’s idea more understandable, but in a less dark way. The reader doesn’t see a dark image, but more of a brighter image of this idea.
Imagery helps communicate the two author’s way of getting one to feel what they want to say a little more, and it works in this case, just very differently. The connotation in both The Fall of the House of Usher and Walden evoke different feelings and sensations in the reader’s mind. Words used in Poe’s story bring discomforting and unwelcoming sensations to mind. As the main character enters the house, he noticed that “dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered (Poe 297). The reader would perceive this scene as old and not very well maintained. Profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered all bring to mind sensations like aged and unclean. On the other hand, Walden uses words that have more of a virtuous and free spirited connotation. When Thoreau says “I am the monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute (Poe 380),” his use of the word monarch really is what makes the sentence. The word monarch gives a sensation of superiority and hopefulness to the reader. An upbeat connotation like this isn’t seen in The Fall of the House of Usher.
In the two works, connotation is very different, one being more unsettling, while the other being more enlightening. Tone is an especially large factor in differentiating between the two stories. The Fall of the House of Usher has a very dark and repulsive tone, especially near the end of the book, where Madeline Usher, another resident of the house, comes back after being buried alive. “ ‘Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart?
Madman! ” Here he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul –’Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door (Poe 309)! ’ ” Poe used trapped female characters like Madeline in his stories to release his sadness about his wife’s death, as some critics say (Wiggins 289). This is no exception, the depiction of Madeline and of Roderick Usher is horrifying. Roderick has gone insane due to the fact the she has come back from the grave to kill him. This conveys a very disturbing tone.
Back in Thoreau’s transcendentalist world, things aren’t so repulsive. In the conclusion of Walden, Thoreau states “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours (Thoreau 385). ” There is clearly an extreme difference from the tone of Poe’s story. This communicates that a lesson about life has been learned, and that the future is bright, unlike Roderick Usher’s situation in the previous quote, where he is about to be killed.
The tones in both are exact opposites, one being horrifying, while the other conveys a happy future. Transcendentalist and Gothic writing are two opposite things. The imagery they convey, connotation, and tone place them on different sides. One is designed to teach virtues and how an individual can be better, while the other is designed to show horrifying flaws in one’s character. The varied backgrounds of both Thoreau and Poe, as well as their experiences in life were probably a big influence in the way they wrote.
Poe had a very depressing life, while Thoreau had a varied and upbeat life. One can see this in their writing through obvious or subliminal connections to their experiences, sensations that the reader experiences, and images their work conveys. Works Cited -Poe, Edgar. “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience, Common Core ed. Eds. Grant Wiggins, Jeff Anderson, et al. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 293-310 . Print. -Thoreau, Henry. “Walden”. Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience, Common Core ed. Eds.
Grant Wiggins, Jeff Anderson, et al. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 379-387. Print. -Wiggins, Grant, et al, eds. “Civil Disobedience (Background). ” Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience, Common Core ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 388. Print. — Wiggins, Grant, et al, eds. “Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). ” Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience, Common Core ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 288-289. Print. -Wiggins, Grant, et al, eds. “Henry David Thoreau. ” Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience, Common Core ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 377. Print.