Why did Edgar Allan Poe write his stories in a horrible, cruel and cold-blooded way? Did his biographical background affect him?

Expert Answers
marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allan Poe was a victim of self-induced misfortune and ill health.  Born in 1809, his actor parents died when he was two years old.  He was taken into the home of John Allan, a wealthy land owner of Virginia.  Never officially adopted, he still used his foster father's name as his middle name throughout his life.  When he was six years old, he went to England with the Allans and attended school there for five years.  Later, he was sent to the University of Virginia, but his gambling habits eventually caused his forceable expulsion after the first year.  He later tried a military career, but was dismissed within six months because of dereliction of duty and disobedience.

After a quarrel with his foster father, he left home and tried his hand at writing but never received much money for his works.  It is said much of what he wrote was done under the influence of opium and alcohol, which accounts for the often morbid, dark, and oppressing mood to his literature. 

The brightest part of his life was his love for his beloved Virginia, whom he had married in 1836.  She died in 1847 after a long and extended illness.  It is believed the sad and melancholy poem, "Annabel Lee" was written in her honor.  After her demise, Poe never fully recovered and went steadily downhill both mentally and physically.  He died in Baltimore in 1849. 

I strongly believe that had Poe had the loving and nurturing of natural parents and a stable home environment, he wouldn't have turned to liquor and drugs.  In these drug and alcohol-induced states, all sorts of sinister and macabre characters and incidents emerged, filling page after page with their twisted, deranged tales. 

lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having written and produced a play (Death by the Visitation of God) about Poe's life, and having researched extensively his life through his own words as well as through the letters and journals of people who knew him well, I can state that he was definitely influenced by lhis life (his mother's death, John Allan's failure to send him to the University of Virginia with enough money to cover even half a term of expenses, his wife's ill health to name a few major instances). However, he also discovered that he was living in an age when dark literature sold papers! When he first planned to publish Berenice, White, his editor at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, was appalled. He feared that a story this dark would turn readers away, In fact, it had the opposite effect and basically these dark stories helped to put that paper "on the map" so to speak. Keep in mind that Poe did not ONLY write dark works. He wrote science fiction and detective fiction as well. All writers are, to a degree, affected by their life experiences. What is important to remember is that these experiences shape a part of their work, but other factors come into play as well.

micheldemontaigne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Those questions require getting into the mind of the author, which I usually begin by researching the following: the author's era, popular stories of that era (any similarity?/sharp contrast?/genre shift?), brief chronology of author and works (do his life events seem to shape what he wrote at the time?), and the way his writing was received by readers. This can give a glimpse of the man and his likely decisions, though you are only able to make a logical assumption unless the author has stated this information explicitly. In Poe's case, you can learn much from his life's chronology to answer the questions well.

epollock | Student


Those stories are such a small part of one of America's most enigmatic literary giants. A complicated individual, Poe was characterized by a wide range of incompatible traits; his reputation among his literary peers varied a great deal, too. He was unquestionably a man of culture, yet surprisingly on target in his view of literary reputations, he was possessed of old-fashioned Southern courtesy, but he was notoriously hard to get along with, finicky, and often extreme in his judgments. Walt Whitman is the only major American man of letters who attended a memorial service for Poe in the 1870s. Although he was Poe's virtual opposite, Whitman had a surprising grasp of Poe's genius.

Poe's poems are astonishing in their technical polish and hypnotic cadences, and there is a kind of magic when we listen to them."The Bells" is Poe's most extreme phonic experiment, a poem that maniacally repeats and captures the actual sound of bells. "Eldorado" is one of Poe's briefest, most haunting pieces about man's eternal quest; the goal of which can be whatever we wish—heaven, truth, or beauty. At the same time, we know that Poe's poem of 1849 was specifically addressed to a major social event of his time, the California Gold Rush. "Annabel Lee" is one of Poe's most lovely creations, stirring the minds of subsequent writers such as Nabokov, evoking a tragic past. "The Raven" is, of course, Poe's most famous poem. The piece is an ingenious example of complex rhyme and metric schemes.

Poe's great contribution to literary theory is his conception of Poet as Maker vs. Poet as Seer; in this we see a drastic calling-into-question of Romantic assumptions. "The Philosophy of Composition" or "How I Wrote the Raven" (1846) is the (perhaps spoofing) famous account of Poe's poetic practice. Poe is splendidly technical in his essay; he shows us exactly how and why the refrain and metric scheme of "The Raven" are as they are.

Poe essentially created the detective story; he considers the powers of ratiocination as the opposite pole to pure sensation. This "split" marks much of his thinking. Auguste Dupin, Poe's genial Parisian detective, reigns in Poe's seminal detective stories, "Murders of the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." The genre has been launched. Ratiocination and scientism characterize Poe's detective fiction, and we see here the desire for a world that is utterly transparent to the highly intelligent detective, a world where "details" become "clues."

Science fiction is also one of Poe's "inventions." A number of his stories involve (bogus) scientific discoveries (trips into space, under the seas) that will be played out more fully in the future: Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, etc.

Although he was a poet, Poe gives us, in some stories, a blueprint for urban sociology. His tale "The Man of the Crowd" sketches an entire theory of crowd mentality, and this piece figures profoundly in the poems and prose of Baudelaire.

Poe's greatest achievement lies in the area of psychological narrative. In writing his remarkable horror stories, Poe touches on nerves that still quiver today. Poe is the man most responsible for today's horror films. Poe is the great writer of the American collective unconscious: reading him entails digging in our own cellars, which is a central activity in a number of his pieces.

reececup1 | Student

Edgar Allen Poe wrote his stories in a horrible, cruel, and col-blooded way because he basically was doing what any other writer would do, catch the audiences attention.Basically, i mean like he probably writes it like that on purpose.

dealwithit | Student

Edgar Allan Poe life was terrible, rogued with death, alcohol and other tragic events.  Not only did he wrtie this way to perhaps grab the readers attention, but his works are based on his life, if he was in love, he would write a happy story or poem about love. Some of his works are based just for fun and not really on his life, but most are.

lynn137 | Student


When it comes to Poe, a famous American novelist, no one can ignore his Gothic Novels. What, however, contributes to the author’s success of those works? There are two main reasons. 

One is the environmental impact on the author’s growth. Poe was born in a  poor travel actor’s family; is parents died when he was only three years old. This sudden death probably warped him for the rest of life. He was taken into the home of John Allan, a successful and ambitious Richmond merchant. Because of lack of parents’ love, especially father’s love, and the conflicts between his foster-father, he lived a lonely life which made him eccentric to the society. And his character was full of contradictions, naturally stubborn and willful, gloomy, indignant and intolerant. He, however, had a strong and creative brain filled with eccentric but depressed mighty. Poe was endowed with the unique imagination which a novelist must have. And both his character and his mind were with Gothic color which can be seen in “William Wilson”.

Another is the impact of the author’s morbid love affection. Poe had an unhappy childhood during which time he had senses of inferiority, timidness, introversion, and precocity. During school time, he felt more and more insecure and estrange from his schoolmates for his lowly origin and more and more antagonistic to Mr. Allan out of love for his sick foster-mother—a standard Oedipus relationship. Being a passionate boy, while still at school, he fell in love with a beautiful young mother of one of his friends—Mr. Stanard. After that, he married a thirteen-year-old child wife Virginia who was fatally ill and died in her 23. In “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”, we can easily find the influence of his morbid love affection. All his life he craved love and tenderness, but was doomed to lose in turn all the women he loved. When he reached a sheltered childhood and adolescence he encountered nothing but failures and denials.

kali0106 | Student


Since his death, Poe's work has been variously assessed, with critics disagreeing on its value. Today, however, Poe is acknowledged as a major literary figure, a master of Gothic atmosphere and interior monologue. His poems and stories have influenced the literary schools of Symbolism and Surrealism as well as the popular genres of detective and horror fiction.