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The Imp of the Perverse by Edgar Allan Poe

The Imp of the Perverse

by Edgar Allan Poe

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This was not one of my favorite Poe selections, but interesting nonetheless. It is a little slow to start, but in typical Poe fashion, there is a murderer submerged in his own thoughts on this "imp" that has us perform acts simply because we feel we should not perform them. ( )
  CJ82487 | Mar 20, 2018 |
This is one of the more structurally unusual of Poe's tales. And that's saying a lot! It begins as an essay in which Poe describes the impulse to do wrong precisely because we know it's wrong. But wait, you might say. That's crazy! People are rational! They'd never do that! This is what Poe called "the pure arrogance of the reason"--the arrogance to assume that people are always reasonable, that if you only explained what's right and what's wrong to them, they'd choose to do what's right. Poe had the keen insight into human nature to say that's foolishly naive.

As Poe writes: "Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong's sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse--elementary." He uses as a famous example a person standing "upon the brink of a precipice" who is somehow drawn to the edge, desiring to fall precisely because "it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination."

As an aside, we might also see this same impulse on a national level, as when Orwell writes about the appeal of fascism, in which a leader promises struggle, danger, and death, "and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet." But that's a discussion for another day.

In this tale, Poe's narrator turns from his essay to his personal story, in which he claims to himself be a victim of this "Imp of the Perverse"--this primitive desire to do wrong. Of course this might simply be the narrator's way of disavowing any personal responsibility for his crime, which consisted of killing someone by means of a poisoned candle in order to inherit their estate. But if you think about it, this crime itself really isn't an example of the Imp of the Perverse at work, because the narrator did have an ulterior motive, namely to get the estate. No, the true irony of this tale is that the Imp of the Perverse only comes into play afterwards, when the narrator can't contain his impulse to shout out his confession in a crowd. In other words, what's really "perverse" in the narrator's mind isn't killing someone, but confessing. Which is itself perverse! Oh, my mind boggles. I tip my hat to Poe, and to his narrator, for another fantastic tale. ( )
  MichaelBarsa | Dec 17, 2017 |
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The narrator explains at length his theory on which he believes causes people to commit acts against their self-interest. This essay-like discussion is presented objectively, though the narrator admits that he is "one of the many uncounted victims of the "Imp of the Perverse". He then explains how his conviction for murder was the result of this. The narrator murders a man using a candle that emits a poisonous vapor. The victim enjoyed reading in bed at night and, using the candle for illumination, dies in his poorly-ventilated room. No evidence is left behind, causing the coroner to believe the man's death is an act of God. The narrator inherits the man's estate and, knowing he can never be caught, enjoys the benefits of his murderous act for many years...… (more)

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