It is a mistake, made by many teachers and critics, to dismiss Poe as a hack writer of horror tales, a sort of nineteenth century Stephen King, who has nothing of importance to say and who says it in a popularized, best-seller fashion. While it is true that Poe’s stories were written in conventional forms that he thought would make them popular with the general reading public, his genius transformed the gothic pot-boiler into a probing exploration of the romantic imagination and the isolated human psyche.
The central theme in all of Poe’s works is the concept of unity, an idea that he explored in most of his works—from his simplest stories to his ambitious philosophic poem Eureka. For Poe, aesthetic and philosophic truth is determined not by measuring a work’s correspondence to external reality but by its own internal consistency. As he says in Eureka , “A thing is consistent in the relation of its truth—true in the ratio of its consistency. A perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but an absolute truth.” Based on this conviction, Poe believed that the function of language was not to mirror external reality but to create a self-contained realm of reality that corresponds only to the basic human desire for total unity. In such metaphysical fantasies as “Mesmeric Revelation,” Poe asserted that the highest form of existence was what he called “unparticled matter,” by which he meant mind, spirit, and ultimately God. Arguing that the universe was a perfect plot of God, Poe thought that it was the task of the artist to strive to create perfect plots—self-contained aesthetic...
(The entire section is 552 words.)