Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be one of the lesser known great artists of the 19th century. Orphaned at a very young age of 3, he nevertheless lived a happy and contented childhood with a kind-hearted and wealthy merchant, John Allan, from whom he derived his middle name. He was sent to a good school and even excelled in languages and athletics. Upon entering college, he spent most of his time in carnal pursuits, provoking the ire of his adoptive father. To escape his wrath, Poe joined the army, using the name Edgar a. Perry. A few years later, Mrs. Allan, his stepmother, on her deathbed, begged her husband to search for their prodigal son and bring him home. Poe did come home, but the death of his stepmother caused an even greater rift between (step)father and son. Allan eventually remarried and his new wife hated Poe.

By 1831, Poe was a destitute author of three measly volumes of poetry, and hardly eats even one square meal a day. Then he lucked upon a long lost relative, Aunt Marie Clemm, who became his surrogate mother. He eventually married her daughter, Virginia, his cousin.

Poe took odd jobs to support his family and once in a while published a story or two. Whatever he earned was insufficient to support himself, much less his family. Virginia eventually took ill and died in 1847. Poe during that time was a chronic alcoholic; he believed that he wrote best when he's inebriated. Upon the death of his wife, he took to drinking more and more, also wooing widows and becoming engaged more than a few times. His writing grew progressively tortured, horrific, a keen reflection of the internal demons he faced every single day. He died in pain and squalor, victim of his own private horrors and foolish actions.

DEATH & JUSTICE

An essay on the Masque of the Red Death and the Black Cat

One of Edgar Allan Poe's most celebrated stories, the Masque of the Red Death, tells of a plague that has purged the world and murdered everything in its path, killing without qualm and pity, not distinguishing between race, age, gender or social status. The Red Death is a terrible death. It kills from within; once infected, it causes the person to bleed to death, all the while experiencing extreme pain and agony until the last dying breath.

There are those that opted to escape the reality of death and the main character, Prince Prospero, raised the bar in escapism. Prospero burrowed in his familiar wealth and luxury, bringing with him a select number of friends. Locked in from the dying world and surrounded by opulence, they spent the days and nights in endless banquets and gatherings. After six months, Prospero decided to hold a lavish masquerade ball, held in seven luxuriant halls, each with a tall Gothic window of a different color for each chamber facing a narrow corridor which connected each suite. The first chamber was of a pale blue hue, the second of deep purple, the third suite was green all throughout, and the fourth was furnished with orange, the fifth with white and the sixth with violet. In each of these rooms, all the furnishings, draperies, carpet...everything inside were of the same color as the chamber window, creating a vivid visual spectacle for all who enter. The seventh chamber however, deviated from the design. The room was dressed in the blackest black, but the Gothic window was a crimson red, a bloody scarlet. Each chamber was lighted from outside, wherein a heavy tripod bearing a flaming brazier stood on the corridors. This created an effect so brilliant, that each of the guests wandered from suite to suite, basking in the changing glows from room to room. All the rooms, that is, except for the last. Guests suffered a tendency of appetite loss once they entered the seventh suite and they find themselves shown as bathed in blood from the light coursing through the crimson window.

The festivities remained intact despite the seventh suite, for Prince Prospero did not spare any resource in creating the event. The music, the wine, the food, all the wanton pleasures were served directly. The revelry, however, was marred by the hourly chiming of a great ebony clock set against the western wall of the seventh room. The sound that signaled the end of the hour and start of the next was "clear and loud and deep and musical, but also so peculiar" that it caused all, from the musicians to the dancers and attendants to pause for a moment and catch their breath, for the sound also brought a passing dread, as if it momentarily reminded those who were there to forget of their pending death and fragile mortality.

Upon the witching hour, the final stroke of midnight, which once again caused everyone to pause from their revelries, Prince Prospero took notice of a lonesome figure, garbed in the manner of those struck by the Red Death. Outraged, Prince Prospero confronted the person, who proceeded to move from suite to suite, from one chamber to the next, until he reached the last room. There, dressed in death and washed in blood-red light, he finally revealed himself as the Red Death, proving once and for all that none escapes Death. None is exempted from its Hand.

The same premise is used in the plot of the Black Cat, a story of a man who grew up enjoying the company of various pets. Narrated in the first person, the man told the story of a certain black cat, named Pluto, of which he was fond of, but eventually grew to despise due to his fickle nature, love of liquors and "Fiend Intemperance." His young wife had the same fondness for animals that he initially had, and because she never loss hers, she continued to care for the pets he eventually neglected, including the black cat. The man, on one mad instance, grew so incensed at the black cat, that he grabbed it and using a sharp penknife, took out one of its eyes. The cat lived and managed to avoid meeting his path again. However, due to the fact that his wife still tended to the beast, he sees it everyday, adding to his shame, until he was gripped by a sudden perverseness to finish what he started. On day, in cold blood, he hanged the black cat. That same day, his house was set on fire, and an imprint of a cat hanging on a noose was left along the wall of his bedroom where he was asleep during the time of the tragedy. This supernatural phenomenon was disregarded, though his guilt at his actions against the innocent feline caused him to once again adopt another black cat.

The second cat was not entirely black. It featured a noose of white fur around its neck but it exhibited the same affection to the man that Pluto used to lavish upon him. As is man's nature, the man reverted to his old ways, and grew to despise the cat with such intensity that he loathed the sight of the poor creature and though he spent considerable time avoiding it, for it caused his heart much dread, the cat remained loyal and followed his every step. One day, it caught itself on the man's feet, causing him to tumble. In a huge rage, he took an ax and aimed to plunge its sharp blade against the neck of the creature. His wife happened upon the scene and blocking the blow, became the victim herself, as the man drove the blade into her skull. The man, though suffused with grief, nevertheless tried to find the cat, for his goal was to finish the task of putting it to death. However, the cat was nowhere to be found. Finding a mad sense of sanity, he proceeded to hide his murderous deed and found the perfect hiding place in the basement, behind the soft lath wall under the false fireplace. He placed his dead wife's body inside and closed the hole brick by brick. The cat remained unseen all throughout, as if it vanished into thin air after the foul death of its mistress.

The man did not escape scrutiny from his neighbors and indeed, the authorities came knocking on his door shortly after the loss of his wife. He remained confident that he managed to erase all traces of the murder and invited the police to search high and low inside his abode. He was about to be granted absolute freedom from his crime, but when he led the searchers to the basement and tapped on the wall to prove its solidness, a surprising response came from behind the structure. A howling scream that prompted everyone to scramble to remove the bricks from the wall in an effort to free that trapped soul behind it and caused the corpse of his wife to clear her…