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PPHS English 332
American Modernism Project
American Romanticism Project
Aspects of American Romanticism
List of Romanticism Works
A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe
A Rainy Day by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Walk at Sunset by William Cullen Bryant
Alone by Edgar Allan Poe
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe
Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe
Eleonora by Edgar Allan Poe
Forms of Heroes by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
Little Annie's Ramble by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Mr. Higginbotham's Catastrophe by Nathaniel Hawthorne
My Love by James Russell Lowell
My Low and Humble Home by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Paradise of Bachelors and the Tarturus of Maid by Herman Melville
Silence by Edgar Allan Poe
Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allan Poe
The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe
The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
The Bridal Ballad by Edgar Allan Poe
The Canterbury Pilgrims by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
The City in the Sea by Edgar Allan Poe
The Coliseum by Edgar Allan Poe
The Darkened Mind by James Russell Lowell
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe
The Happiest Day by Edgar Allan Poe
The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allan Poe
The Lake by Edgar Allan Poe
The Last Leaf by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Lightning Rod Man by Herman Melville
The Man of the Crowd by Edgar Allan Poe
The Martyr by Herman Melville
The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
The Sleeper by Edgar Allan Poe
The Spectacles by Edgar Allan Poe
The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether by Edgar Allan Poe
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Valley of Unrest by Edgar Allan Poe
To the River by Edgar Allan Poe
Ulalume by Edgar Allan Poe
What the Birds Said by John Greenleaf Whittier
William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe
The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
"There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction." (Poe 666) And so the tone is set for "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe. It is obvious, from just the opening line of "The Premature Burial" that it will be abundant with the characteristics of Dark Romanticism. First and foremost amongst those characteristics is the topic of death, while there are many other lesser characteristics throughout the story. Poe's life was filled with the death of those he loved. It is possible that he feared premature burial for them as well as himself. This story is most similar to Poe's other story "The Fall of the House of Usher", though it is also similar to "A Dream within a Dream", and a few others. "The Premature Burial" is a Dark Romantic work that shows many similarities to Poe's life and his other works.
"The Premature Burial" has many characteristics of Dark Romanticism. The most prominent attribute is the topic of death. The narrator gives many examples of historical cases in which people were buried alive, such as a wife who died while trying to pry open her tomb and a businessman who was conscious through his autopsy (Poe 666-79). The narrator has a condition where he is often prone to go into a state where he appears, for all intents and purposes, to be dead. He becomes obsessed with his fear that someone will mistake him for dead when he is in one of his episodes. He is so terrified that he becomes inconsolable. After his most recent stupor, he awakens slowly, his memory creeping back only enough to remember his fear of being buried while alive. He comes to his senses enough to realize that he is in a dark confined space, with his jaw bound and his body in a position of repose. He realizes with horror that he has been buried alive, but then remembers the precautions he had placed in his tomb so that it could be opened from the inside. Upon discovering that they are not there, his terror grows so strong that he cries out... until his friends drag him out of his berth in the wall of a ship that he was sleeping in and tell him to stop being an imbecile (Poe 666-79). The reader truly believes that the narrator has been buried alive, so the ending comes as quite a shock. Such and ending is also characteristic of Dark Romanticism (Langley). The psychology really exudes Dark Romanticism, as the reader is let into the mind of a man in a state of the most unimaginable horror. Also, the level of description is superb - the reader can almost feel the stifling air inside the "tomb". The narrator comes out of this experience a new man, living his life to the fullest. He no longer is obsessed. Such a turnabout is characteristic of Romanticism in general (Langley). The narrator goes through a horrible experience, but rises above it and turns out all the better for it.
"To be buried while alive, is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality." (Poe 666). This story could, quite possibly, be a reflection of Poe's own fears. He had been dealing with death for his whole life. His mother died when he was two, his foster parents died while he was still relatively young, and his wife and several romantic interests also left him alone upon their deaths (Edgar). At a time when medicine was not as certain as it is in today's world, people were often buried before they had properly died. Poe probably agonized over the thought that one of his loved ones could be part of that number of unfortunate people. He most likely experienced it himself, as many do at times.
This short story is similar to a number of Poe's other works. Its focus on premature entombment is also present in "The Fall of the House of Usher" in which a brother kills his sister by burying her alive. "A Dream within a Dream" is also similar to "The Premature Burial" in its sense of desperation and its talk of death. The psychological nuances are also similar to such works as "The Raven", "Alone" ,and "The Tell-Tale Heart", while its twist ending bears resemblance to "The Pit and the Pendulum".
"The Premature Burial" is a work by Poe that encompasses Poe's life, works, and Dark Romanticism as a whole. Upon reading this, many characteristics of Romanticism can be found. Connections between this work and others by Poe are also discernible. In this, Poe expresses one of his, and many other peoples', fears and reveals other aspects of his mind and psyche. "The truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction" (Poe 668), though not in this case. The truth is that "The Premature Burial" is a classic of the Romanticism period and will continue to be for quite some time.
Edgar Allan Poe, Short Stories, Tales, and Poems
. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. <
Langley, John. “Romanticism 1800-1860.”
Mr. Langley's Digital Classroom
. 24 Oct. 2010. Web. 08 Dec. 2010. <
>. Microsoft Powerpoint File.
Poe, Edgar Allan, and Patrick F. Quinn. "A Dream within a Dream."
Poetry and Tales
. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984. 97. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan, and Patrick F. Quinn. "The Premature Burial."
Poetry and Tales
. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984. 666-79. Print.
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