We all experience things in our lifetimes that influence the way we act, feel, or think. For an author, life experiences have a great impact on their work. The writer's feelings and opinions are apparent in their pieces. Edgar Allan Poe was considered to be one of the great authors of his time. His pieces have been studied and critiqued. Over the years his works have gained respect from the writers community. Poe's life, with all of its heartache, influenced his writing style a great deal. One particular essay called The Oval Portrait is a good example of the life and writing relationship.
Poe's problems began at an early age. By the age of six Poe had become an orphan. His birth father deserted the family, and his mother died before Poe was three. To a child, at any age being left alone must bring up some feelings of rejection.
Poe was raised by the Allan family, but throughout his life he was rejected by one man. John Allan was Poe's foster father very soon in their relationship Allan showed Poe that he did not care. When Poe entered the University of Virginia Allan didn't send him adequate amounts of money. This, in turn, drove Poe to gambling for books and clothes. John Allan had, at different times, refused to pay Poe's debts. He was forced to work in a job he didn't want, and eventually John Allan disowned him permanently.
The male figures in his life were not the only ones to cause Poe grief. Poe also had disappointments with the women in his life, not with rejection but with death. Throughout Poe's life the women that he loved died at an early age, starting with his birth mother. Poe lost several women in his life, all of which caused him pain.
Poe survived many tragedies in his life may have made Poe a very guilty and fearful. Those feelings might account for the methods he used as an escape. Throughout the adult years of his life, Poe was know to be a drinker and gambler. It was a way for him to escape the realities of his life. Perhaps his writing was also a method of escape for him. In his works, he may have found a world that allowed him to be undisturbed by the realities of his life.
One of the reoccurring themes in Poe's works is the loss of a true love. It is possible to attribute this theme to the loss of women in Poe's life. In 1850 shortly after Poe's wife died he wrote a short story that revealed many things about how he felt. The Oval Portrait held true to the theme of a dying love. This story depicts the tale of a painter with a passion for his work. The painter so in love with his beautiful wife that he wants to paint her portrait. The painter doesn't know of his wife's hatred for the work he loved. She is in competition with his work for his attention. Although she hates the idea, being a good wife, she sits with patients and tolerance as a model for his piece. The painter works long hours putting his best into this portrait. While he works, the painter fails to notice his wife who sits quietly. Her complexion turns to a different hue and she begins to look sick. This change is evident to everyone else but the working painter. With the last strokes of the brush the painter declares the painting a master piece, only then does he look over the see his wife sitting beside him, lifeless.
It is very easy to extract the common themes of the symbolism in Poe's works and in his life. The Oval Portrait is a good short story to show the guilt Poe may have felt about the loss of the women in his life. "She was a woman of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter. He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his art". Poe may have had a similar experience with his wife. His writing may have taken his attention away from the woman he loved. Poe's writings have been viewed by others as an escape from the pain he felt in his life. "But he, the painter, took glory in his work, which went on from hour to hour, and from day to day".
The repeated loss of loved ones can cause a fear of future loss and a reluctance to form new relationships. Those very same type of fears were a reality for Poe.
"And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sat beside him. ............For one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, 'This is indeed Life itself!' turned suddenly to regard his beloved: -- she was dead!" After several experiences, Poe may have viewed women as being very fragile, and easily lost. It is easy to see why Poe perhaps feared relationships. After losing many of the women he loved, the pain of one more incident could have proved too much to bear.
In The Oval Portrait, there is a dreamlike quality that is evident throughout the story. This dreamlike mood related to the confusion and need for escape in Poe's life. From a very early age Poe probably felt a need to escape his troubles. He accomplished this through his work and in his use of gambling and alcohol. Perhaps his life was like the story, hanging between confusion and reality. The pain felt from the rejection of significant male figures, mixed with the loss of females caused a need for Poe to have an alternate reality.
How can we criticize the life Poe led? From his life of grief and disappointment came many wonderful literary works. The Oval Portrait is a collection of many different aspects of Poe's life experience and feelings. This essay touches on the life experiences he had with women. The essay also spends some time on the relationships he had with the male figures in his life. In analyzing this piece we, the reader, can find may symbolic relationships to Poe's life within the story. Perhaps we can learn from Poe that even a life of misery can bring something to be studied by some, and appreciated by all. "But he, the painter, took glory in his work".