Joshua of these stories center around the

Joshua Terry
Period 5
November 30, 2017
Mrs. Cook

The Root of All Madness: Poe’s Thoughts on Isolation
After the loss of his wife from tuberculosis, Poe writes in a letter, “I became insane, with

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long intervals of horrible insanity” describing his lonesomeness while his wife was bedridden,
and how that attributed to his periods of madness (Poe). Edgar Allan Poe was an American
writer known for his poems and short stories during the era of Dark Romanticism. This literary
era explored death and the irrational, and emphasized mankind’s tendency towards sin and
self-destruction. Three of Poe’s most significant pieces of literature include “The Raven”, “The
Tell-Tale Heart”, and “Berenice”. “The Raven” is a narrative poem about a distraught man
grieving over the death of his love, Lenore. While he is lamenting her loss, he finds solace in the
arrival of a talking Raven, however he soon descends into madness due to the its sole repetition
of the word “Nevermore”. In “The Tell Tale Heart”, the narrator desperately tries to prove his
sanity while detailing his fixation on the “vulture-eye” of an old man, and the calculated steps he
took to murder him. However his feelings of guilt and increasing insanity cause him to confess to
his crime. In the short story, “Berenice”, the main character Egaeus deals with his fiance?’s
declining health, which causes him to fall into periods of deep focus and isolation from society.
Following her death, Egaeus eventually visits her grave and rips out all of her teeth and puts
them into a box. All of these stories center around the main character’s seclusion and provide
insight into their twisted mind that leads them into madness and horrific deeds. These three

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stories clearly show Poe’s belief that isolation in any form is the root of all madness and it can
cause anyone to do horribly unimaginable things.

In “The Raven”, the narrator’s grief over the death of his lover causes him to isolate
himself from society, leading to his decline into insanity. The speaker finds himself sitting alone
in his house grieving over the death of his lover. He describes his environment and the loneliness
it induces: “But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token” (Poe). Through Poe’s
use of very solitary words such as stillness, silence, and darkness, Poe creates a very lonesome
and isolated atmosphere. His atmosphere is said to give him no token, showing that the empty
space is providing him with no tangible feelings. The narrator’s solitude is what eventually
drives him mad. While in the midst of his sorrows, he hears something tapping on the window.
He is surprised to find that it’s a Raven, and he starts to talk to it since he is alone and has no
other companion. When he questions the Raven on if he will ever be reunited with Lenore, the
Raven only replies back with “nevermore”, furthermore instilling the feeling of isolation and
loneliness. He becomes so frustrated that he begins to yell at the bird, “‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of
evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!'” (Poe). His tone of deep anger highlights his madness, as he
has amplified the situation to such a great magnitude in his head. His outburst of hatred towards
the bird, which he goes as far as to call the devil, is a direct result of his lack of anyone to talk to
and frustration that his one companion has turned against him. In the end, he is left feeling even
more hopeless and alone due to the futility of his situation that the bird exposed him to.

“The Tell Tale Heart” details a man’s fixation on his soon-to-be victim, and how his
obsession causes him to detach from society. The short story begins with the narrator sitting
alone, talking to the audience about how he is not mad. One could consider the narrator an

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outcast because of the way he worries about and questions other people’s opinions about his
mental state. The narrator goes on to say, “but why will you say that I am mad?” (Poe). The
narrator struggles to prove his sanity and questions why people would think that he is mad, most
likely because he is. His fear of society’s view of him turns him into a social outcast, which
further makes him hysterical. Later on in the story, he eventually kills an old man with a
“vulture-eye”, whom he claims to love, due to the effect of isolation on his obsessive tendencies.
After he kills the man to save him from the evil eye, the narrator “then smiled gaily, to find the
deed so far done” (Poe). His isolation causes the narrator to become obsessed with the pale-blue
eye of the old man, even convincing himself that he loves the stranger. Watching him alone from
a distance eventually drives him mad, leading him to kill his neighbor. The narrator’s
preoccupation with his victim further isolated him from a society that he already believed to be
rejecting him.

Finally, “Berenice” shows the isolating effect that illness and death have on those close to
the sufferer. During his fiance?’s extended periods of illness, Egaeus is left isolated without her
presence to keep him company. He spends most of his time in the library, even sleeping there
overnight, engaging in long periods of reverie. In one such instance, Egaeus wakes up from a
confusing and exciting dream: “I found myself sitting in the library and again sitting there alone”
(Poe). He awakens with the feeling that he has done some deed, but he can’t recall what. This
demonstrates his inability to separate reality from his dreams, as he cannot remember the events
of the past hours, including visiting Berenice’s grave to rip out her teeth. His long periods of
isolation in the library continue even after her death, as they have become such a central part of
his existence. During Berenice’s illness, Egaeus develops a fixation on her teeth because they are

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the only part of her unaffected by sickness: “Then came the full fury of my monomania, and I
struggled in vain against its strange and irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of the
external world I had no thoughts but for the teeth” (Poe). Egaeus separates himself from
humanity and develops an obsession on solely Berenice’s teeth. This monomania, or excessive
concentration on a single object or idea, escalates into an unhealthy attachment to the teeth that
causes him commit the horrific act of ripping the teeth from her corpse.

Through Poe’s three stories, the effects of isolation are shown as extremely harmful to a
person’s well being, leading them to madness and terrible decisions. The narrator in “The
Raven” clearly goes mad as seen with his outburst of anger towards the bird caused by his
separation from his lover, which shows the effects of being left alone. “The Tell Tale Heart”
describes a man who is deeply troubled and secluded from society because of his fixation on his
neighbor’s eye. Lastly, Egaeus in “Berenice” ends up ripping out the teeth from Berenice’s
corpse. When he was daydreaming back on this event, he was in alone in a library which is a
symbol of the effect of isolation. After analyzing these three pieces of literature, the importance
of human connection and integration into society becomes very evident, as Poe shows the awful
consequences of what may happen without it. 


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