Do you agree with short story critic Charles E. May that the most powerful 19th century American tales deal with the psyche than supernatural events?These tales, influenced by realism or...

Do you agree with short story critic Charles E. May that the most powerful 19th century American tales deal with the psyche than supernatural events?

These tales, influenced by realism or naturalism, deal w/ individual psyche, making the psychological issues raised in them more significant than social, political ones. Use Twain's and Poe's short stories.

Expert Answers
gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No, I do not agree with this critical viewpoint, largely because I think it presents a false dichotomy: either a work deals with the psyche or it deals with the supernatural. The tales of Poe offer a rather complete refutation of this idea. That is to say, Poe's stories like "The Black Cat," "The Fall of the House of Usher," or "The Masque of Red Death" work as well as they do because their supernatural elements are psychologically powerful—and because Poe finds ways to dramatize psychological elements via the supernatural. So…I reject the idea as faulty.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Yellow Wallpaper," yes!  It is the most deliciously pshychotic narrative I have read since "Turn of the Screw."  Also, what about Kate Chopin and some of her narratives such as "The Awakening" and "The Story of an Hour"?  While "The Story of an Hour" has a different slant about repression, it nevertheless portrays the damaging effects of the subjugation of women in the 19th century.

charlesmay | Student

Hello, my dear. I appreciate your interest. Please tell your instructor that I am happy that she thinks my ideas are worth debating.

In my opinion, one of the most powerful forces in the short story in the nineteenth century is "obsession." Poe is the most important explorer of obsession, both in the content and the style of his stories, but he is not the only one. I would suggest that you ask yourself if the seemingly supernatural events in a Poe tale can be explained by an obsession so strong that it seems to be real.

As it often is with Poe, precisely by suggesting that the events manifest merely naturalistic causes and effects the narrator of “The Black Cat” suggests that they are the result of obsession, which, by its very nature, is a cause that evades analysis. Although the narrator says he is not so weak as to try to establish a "sequence of cause and effect" between his killing the cat and the mysterious burning of his house on the night of the deed, he then describes the only motivation possible for the burning of the house; that is, the purely aesthetic motivation to imprint the image of a cat as in bas relief on the one remaining wall of his house. The "cause" of the image of the cat is the obsessive nature of the narrator which has been translated into the obsessive unity of the story.

Good luck. Look for the psychological not the supernatural explanation.

sweetsugarxox | Student

I'm pleased to have response from the author I'm supposed to analyze. My directions are exactly this: "Short story critic Charles May has argued that the most powerful 19th century American tales, whether written by romantics like Poe or later American writers influenced by realism or naturalism, deal 'more with the individual psyche than with supernatural events' and that psychological issues raised by them are therefore more significant to than cultural, social, theological, or political issues. Use your current understanding of significant issues in one of Poe's, one of Twain's, and in at least 4 others of what you regard as the most accomplished American stories of the 19th or early 20th century we have read to agree or disagree (or a little of both) with May.

Those are my exact instructions from my professor.

We focused on "Black Cat" in Poe, which she mentioned to be supernatural because of the present evil etc. You're saying it's NOT supernatural?

Could you elaborate a little more by what you would consider supernatural vs. pychological?

We read Gillman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper," and deemed that psychological, as well as social because of the femininst movement that was beginning to take place.

Thanks so much!

charlesmay | Student

I have never made the statement attributed to me above. I have suggested that the most important 19th century American short stories are more focused on universal psychologicaand spiritual issues than social and political ones.

And in reference to one answer to this question:  Poe's "Black Cat" and "Fall of the House of Usher"  do not deal with the supernatural.  "Masque of the Red Death" does because it is an allegory.

Charles May