Tag Archives: murder

Symbolism in “The Imp of the Perverse” by Edgar Allan Poe

I always like to read some Poe around Halloween. This is one that I had never read before, but on my first pass, I noticed some really interesting symbolism.

The protagonist of the story explains why he committed a murder, claiming to be “one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse.” He describes the perverse as the desire within all humans to do what they know is wrong. We all have those random thoughts come into our heads, envisioning some heinous act which we would never actually act out. But the protagonist claims that the longer you dwell upon these thoughts of the perverse, the stronger they become and the higher the likelihood that you will act upon them.

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness, and horror become merged in a cloud of unnameable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius, or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that 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 — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore, do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him, who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

So this passage also holds the key to the primary symbol in this story—the imp. The definition of an imp is “a small, mischievous devil or sprite.”  (Oxford) So where is the imp? If we look again at the passage, right near the beginning, we come across the word “impulse,” the first three letters being “imp.” So the imp is that subtle impulse that grows into an uncontrollable urge. But keep looking at the paragraph, and you will find the imp appearing throughout: impulse, imperceptible, impetuously, impatient. These are all aspects of one’s psyche that could lead one into the abyss, all manifestations of the mischievous imp.

And the imp continues to show itself throughout the rest of the story, popping up like that dark thought that you just can’t make disappear. When providing details of the murder, the protagonist states:

But I need not vex you with “imp”ertinent details.

As he describes how his small thoughts of guilt begin to grow into gnawing mental anguish, he says:

I could scarcely get rid of it for an instant. It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed with the ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories, of the burthen of some ordinary song, or some un”imp”ressive snatches from an opera.

And finally:

For a moment I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back. The long-“imp”risoned secret burst forth from my soul.

(Note: the quotation marks in the above quotations were put in by me for emphasis.)

Now that you have been made aware of the imp, it will be “imp”ossible for you to remain “imp”ervious to its antics. Hope you enjoyed the post, and keep reading cool stuff.

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The Sandman Universe: The Dreaming – Issue 04

I have not felt the need to write about the previous issues in this arc, but this one has a section I found very interesting and thought it worth sharing.

In this book, Cain is the archetype of the first murderer. He is, essentially, murder itself. But Cain is transported to another dimension of existence where an unformed entity informs Cain that he is not, in fact, the archetype of the first murder, but something else, instigating an existential crisis on a cosmic level.

Unformed: … There is a scenario. It begins with two brothers. Two holy gifts. One sacrifice is deemed superior, and so–

Cain: — So I killed him. I am murder! I’m the patron saint of killers!

Unformed: No. That is a flawed understanding of the metaphor. Your brother remembered it more accurately.

Cain: That bumbler! That sweat-bladder! That craven! the first victim–that’s his role! He’ll never be any more than–

Unformed: What gifts did you offer, Cain…? In the classic paradigm.

Cain: W-we… we were farmers. I offered the fruits of the land. I…I toiled and worked my fingers to the bone! While he–he–

Unformed: He was a raiser of stock. He slaughtered the first beast, Cain. Does that sound like the act of a coward?

Cain: I… B-but…

Unformed: His hands were red long before yours. You must undress yourself of false positives if you are to find favor in the new realm. You must reassess all your muddled mysteries before the chrysalis opens. You are not the first killer, Cain of the mark, Cain the wanderer, Cain the lost. You are merely the first to resent. But you are far from the last.

I found this an amazing interpretation of the Biblical tale. And it makes a lot of sense. Cain was not the first to take a life. Abel was, being the first to kill an animal, one of God’s living creations. And Cain resented Abel’s favor, and resentment breeds anger, envy, jealousy, rage… an entire Pandora’s Box of social ills. How many of our problems stem from resentment? Especially resentment that is kept hidden, which grows in the darker recesses of the mind. Resentment is so toxic, it can ultimately destroy almost anything.

I confess I was ready to give up on this series, but this last installment has rekindled my interest again. Hence, I will read on! Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have an inspirational day.

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“Titus Andronicus” by William Shakespeare: An Orgy of Violence with a Dose of Racism

TitusAndronicus

Because I am such a glutton for punishment, not only did I finish reading Titus Andronicus yesterday (considered Shakespeare’s worst play), but I also went to see it performed by a local theater company that same evening. I was familiar with the tragedy, having suffered through the visually disturbing film version starring Anthony Hopkins; but still, reading and seeing it back-to-back was a bit much even for me.

I totally understand why people hate this play. Really, there is not much to like about it. It is nothing but gratuitous violence taken about as far as you can go: rape, dismemberment, cannibalism, and murder (murder almost sounds trivial at this point). If Marilyn Manson was to ever record a rock opera, this would be the perfect choice. In addition, the play contains some very racist passages which are even more offensive considering the current issues that society is dealing with regarding race relations.

Arguably the most disturbing scene is the rape and dismemberment of Lavinia. She is raped by Chiron and Demetrius, who then cut out her tongue and lop off both her hands. They then proceed to mock her mangled and abused body.

Demetrius: So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,
Who ‘twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.

Chiron: Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.

Demetrius: See how with signs and tokens she can scrowl.

Chiron: Go home, call for sweet water, wash thy hands.

Demetrius: She hath no tongue to call, nor hands to wash;
And so let’s leave her to her silent walks.

(Act II, scene iv)

Scene from the film Titus

Scene from the film Titus

Although there is no shortage of villains in this play, Aaron, the Moor (or black person), is by far depicted as the worst of the lot. His skin color is presented as a display of his unrepentant lust for evil. Right up to the very end, he revels in the misery he causes. His only regret is that he will not live longer to cause more suffering. It is truly an offensive representation of a black person and certainly must have fed the stereotypes and prejudices of the time.

First Goth: What, canst thou say all this, and never blush?

Aaron: Ay, like a black dog, as the saying is.

Lucius: Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?

Aaron:  Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

(Act V, scene i)

As I made my way home after the performance, the images and words still vivid in my mind, I could not help but think of all the hatred, violence, and racism that still plague us. If this play has any redeeming value, it’s that it forces us to look at the world around us and recognize the horror of violence. I sincerely hope that one day we can look at this play as a relic depicting the dark past from which a loving, compassionate, and tolerant humanity emerged.

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“Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

SharpObjects

After finishing The Odyssey, I started scouring my sagging shelves looking for something to read that would be more entertaining than contemplative. Someone had given me a copy of Sharp Objects, and since I had liked Gone Girl, I figured I would give it a go. Also, it was thinner than most unread books on my shelves, which helped sway my decision in favor of this book.

This is a pretty dark book that deals with some disturbing material, such as child murder, self-mutilation, and some other equally unsettling topics which I will omit so as not to spoil the ending for those who have not yet read this book. Of course, I have heard the stories of people who cut themselves, but reading the vivid descriptions in this book really drove home the unhealthy and addictive nature of this behavior.

… my first word, slashed on an anxious summer day at age thirteen: wicked. I woke up that morning, hot and bored, worried about the hours ahead. How do you keep safe when your whole day is as wide and empty as the sky? Anything could happen. I remember feeling that word, heavy and slightly sticky across my pubic bone. My mother’s steak knife. Cutting like a child along red imaginary lines. Cleaning myself. Digging in deeper. Cleaning myself. Pouring bleach over the knife and sneaking through the kitchen to return it. Wicked. Relief. The rest of the day, I spent ministering to my wound. Dig into the curves of W with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip. Pet my cheek until the sting went away. Lotion. Bandage. Repeat.

(pp. 60 – 61)

As is often the case with people who are addicts, the protagonist in this book replaces one addiction with another.

Instead I drink so I don’t think too much about what I’ve done to my body and so I don’t do it anymore. Yet most of the time that I’m awake, I want to cut.

(pp. 62 – 63)

This is very much a plot-driven book, but it does include some analogies that are interesting. One which struck me was the comparison between reporters and vampires.

Reporters are like vampires, Curry likes to say. They can’t come into your home without your invitation, but once they’re there, you won’t get them out till they’ve sucked you dry.

(p. 102)

While I personally liked Gone Girl better than this book, it was still worth the read. The writing is good, the dialogue is believable, and there are plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing right up until the final pages of the book. And it’s a quick read, which was exactly what I was in the mood for. As always, feel free to share your thoughts if you have read this book. I’d love to hear your opinions.

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“The Garden of Love” by William Blake

GardenOfLove

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

This poem, included in the Songs of Experience, is an attack against the church and ecclesiastic authority. The Garden of Love symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which Blake associates with sexual freedom. Sexuality is not sinful in Blake’s eyes, but a beautiful and natural part of the human experience.

The image of the chapel in the midst of the Garden implies that the church and religious dogma are preventing humanity’s return to the Edenic state. As a result, the statement “Thou shalt not” takes on two meanings. The obvious is “thou shalt not” have sex out of wedlock, which is contradictory to the natural human state as Blake sees it. But also, “thou shalt not” re-enter the Garden of Eden. The church is like the cherubim blocking the return to the Garden.

The other metaphor I want to point out is the image of “tombstones where flowers should be.” The flower symbolizes the woman who has reached sexual maturity. Sadly, in Blake’s society, a woman who gave in to her sexual desires was cast out and shunned, often left desolate on the streets and destined to die at an early age. For a woman back then, sex before marriage too often resulted in death.

Although we have come a long way in accepting our sexuality, there are still cultures that condemn women for engaging in intercourse out of wedlock and we see news stories of women who are murdered for doing so. The big difference is that most of us are horrified by these occurrences, which is a sign that as a society we are slowly moving in the right direction.

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The X-Files Season 10 Comic: Issue #9

XFiles_10-09

I read this issue on my lunch break today. I wish I had more to say about it, but there’s not much to write about. It was OK, but probably my least favorite of the Season 10 series so far. Not that it was bad; it just was just a little thin in substance.

Basically, this issue falls into the X-Files subcategory of creepy-crawly things. You have swarming cockroaches, the sound of which drives people to insanity and murder. In the X-Files TV series, there were certainly plenty of bug and parasite episodes, and they were entertaining, but I found them less interesting than the other paranormal, viral, or conspiracy episodes. I guess because I lived in Miami when I was watching the original series, swarms of bugs didn’t freak me out. It was kind of normal. There is never a shortage of insects in South Florida, especially cockroaches.

Anyway, the story is entertaining, and it stands alone, which is good. You do not have to be up to date with the series to enjoy this comic. Cheers!

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“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

TellTaleHeartThis is probably the quintessential short story by Edgar Allan Poe and the perfect conclusion to my macabre month of blog posts (I will be indulging in Halloween festivities tomorrow and hence will not post). Although this is a very, very short story, it packs a hell of a wallop and it never gets stale. The story pulls you in from the very first word—in fact; I am going to be as bold as to assert that this is arguably the best opening paragraph in all of literature.

True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease that sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

There is a lot going on in this paragraph and it sets the tone for entire story. First, there is a frenzied rhythm to the text. When you read this aloud, paying attention to the punctuation, it is psychosis perfectly expressed. Reading this, one actually feels the tension and anxiety expressed by the protagonist. The paragraph also establishes the tension of opposites that permeates the story and builds to a climax at the end. The speaker describes himself as both nervous and calm in the same paragraph. This type of juxtaposition continues throughout the tale; for example, when he claims to have thrust his head into the old man’s room, and then immediately states how he slowly put his head through and that it took him nearly an hour to do so.

There are a couple other things worth noting about the opening paragraph. This tale for me symbolizes a struggle between the senses, a struggle between the auditory and the visual—the auditory represented by the speaker and the visual by the old man. When your senses battle each other and one triumphs, the result can be insanity. The second thing to point out is that the speaker claims he hears all things “in the earth,” not on the earth. This is a key distinction, because the things in the earth are dead. Our narrator is already haunted by a psychosis that causes him to believe he is hearing the dead as they lie beneath the ground.

Something that stood out for me on this reading was the concept of time. Time seems to morph in this tale, either speeding up or slowing down in conjunction with the beating of the heart, which is described in clock-like terms. I thought about how our emotional state affects our perception of time. The old adages of “Time flies when you’re having fun” and “Time seems to drag on while you are waiting” certainly come into play here. When the protagonist is excited, time seems to speed up, but when he is waiting, time seems to slow. Here’s an example of how time shifts, increasing with the narrator’s emotional state.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized methe sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come!

I never tire of this story. It is truly a masterpiece and no matter how many times I read it—and I have lost count over the years—it never ceases to thrill me.

I hope you enjoyed this month of creepy tales and poems, and may your Halloween be filled with chills and fright!!

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