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Isolation and Its Results in Poe’s The Raven

Isolation and Its Results in Poe’s The Raven

The noticeable characteristic of the speaker in “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe is his stand-offishness. He cuts himself off from the outside world, not because the world itself is terrible but because of his inward problems. This seclusion can bring ugly internal demons to the surface. The complications resulting from isolation can include sadness, fear, despair, anger, insanity, self-torture, and feelings of entrapment. Each of these can be seen in “The Raven,” manifested in the speaker of the poem.

The opening stanza of “The Raven” introduces the reader to an isolated man in his study on a “dreary” night reading old books and trying to stay awake. The silent solitude is broken by someone or something “tapping” on the door (lines 1-3). The speaker then explains that he had been secluding himself among books in an effort to shut out the mournful pain from the recent death of a girl named Lenore. It was December, the darkest month of the year, in the middle of the night. This contributes to the speaker’s depression, and his isolation further enhances it. He may be trying to avoid his misery and self-pity, but he is also wallowing in it by sitting in a lonely study and reading ancient books on a December night. Independent and private study is perfectly acceptable; however, the speaker is not seeking knowledge but rather a “surcease of sorrow” (line 10). The cause of his sadness is not the isolation, but it greatly contributes, and even heightens, his blue emotions. The surrounding conditions of darkness and solitude, combined with the loss of his beloved, are sinking him into feelings of melancholy. Overall, it is mainly his seclusion among these factors…

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…nfined with total loss of control. In solitude, the mind roams freely in its own dangerous secluded world.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. New York: Doubleday, 1972.

Lawrence, D. H. Studies in Classic American Literature. New York: Viking, 1961.

McQuade, Donald et al. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Raven.” McQuade, 1688-91.

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Poetic Principle.” McQuade 1680-85.

Poe Edgar Allen. “The Philosophy of Composition.” McQuade 1671-79.

Walker, I. M., ed. Edgar Allen Poe: A Critical Heritage. New York: Routledge

Male Dishonor as Guilt and Shame in The Rape of Lucrece

Male Dishonor as Guilt and Shame in The Rape of Lucrece

Inasmuch as a woman’s virginity or chastity is imagined as an object that can be “owned,” rape becomes a property crime, consisting in the theft of a woman’s “virtue” from its rightful “owner,” her male guardian. Bernice Harris articulates this view with respect to Titus Andronicus: “The definition of the word is based on ownership: ‘rape’ is an appropriate term only if what is taken is not rightfully owned” (388). The man who can claim ownership of a woman is subsequently “dishonored” when she is violated: “‘Honour,’ then, is a function of ownership” (389).

While it is tempting to see the Shakespearean concept of rape entirely in such terms, such a view is not adequate to explain the complex interactions of dishonor, shame, and guilt found in The Rape of Lucrece. Carolyn Williams, by contrast, focuses on the tensions in early modern thought between a culture of “shame” and one of “guilt,” two codes which differ not only in their account of the nature of the crime, but also in the consequences for the victim and the importance of her statements in determining her status. In the “shame culture,” rape is “a crime against property,” (like Harris’s definition) and “the victim’s refusal of consent…is irrelevant: her physical condition determines her status” (94). In the culture of “guilt,” however, the woman is seen as a “responsible human agent.” Therefore “her utterance is crucially important. Lack of consent defines the rape…Her ability to tell her story afterwards vindicates her honour” (95).

More broadly, it is possible to see the opposition between “guilt” and “shame” as representative of a larger tension in early modern thought between Christian and p…

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…y seen as murder by Tarquin’s hand, and hence the display of her “bleeding body” (1851) testifies more eloquently than any words to his guilt. This refiguring of suicide as murder, however, is only possible if the men themselves understand her death as the logical and, indeed, only possible consequence of rape. Thus, in order for guilt to be properly and explicitly assigned, the men must implicitly accept the code of shame which compels Lucrece’s choice.

Works Cited

Harris, Bernice. “Sexuality as a Signifier for Power Relations: Using Lavinia, of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus” Critcism 38 (1996): 383-407.

Watson, Curtis. Shakespeare and the Renaissance Concept of Honor Princeton: Princeton UP, 1960.

Williams, Carolyn. “‘Silence, like a Lucrece knife: Shakespeare and the Meanings of Rape.” Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993): 93-110.

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