"Making a Mockery of Horror" : the double-crossing paranoia of E. A. Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat

Source document: Theory and Practice in English Studies. 2019, vol. 8, iss. 1, pp. [35]-43
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Type: Article
Although E. A. Poe is mainly celebrated as the forefather of horror and master of the Gothic, one of the most significant facets of his work has been consistently overlooked and doubted by the majority of Poe scholarship – his humorist tendencies. Poe's fondness for folly and his simultaneous desire to test and school American society not only manifested in the way he presented himself in public but also influenced his works, as some agree that he often used humor in his texts to subvert established conventions of the 19th century American literary scene. One of such conventions – the paranoid style, which is, according to a theory formulated by Richard Hofstadter, tied to the very birth of the American nation – becomes the target of Poe's satire in some of his most prominent short stories. This paper analyses two Poe stories that explicitly utilize the paranoid style – The TellTale Heart and The Black Cat – proposing a reading that sees Poe's humorist strategies as "double-crossing" in that they satirize paranoia both as a pathology and as a mode of writing and reading.
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