The Man of The Crowd, a Short Story by Edgar Allan Poe
The Man of the Crowd Introduction
Many of Poe’s tales are distinguished by the author’s unique grotesque inventiveness in addition to his superb plot construction. Such stories include “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” (1838), noted for its blend of factual and fantastic material; “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), in which the penetrating gloominess of the atmosphere is accented equally with plot and characterization; “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1842), a spine-tingling tale of cruelty and torture; “The Tell Tale Heart” (1843), in which a maniacal murderer is subconsciously haunted into confessing his guilt; and “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), an eerie tale of revenge.
The Man of the Crowd, from Poe’s middle period as a writer, has been described by Frederick S. Frank and Anthony Magistrale a “vignette of urban anonymity.” Thomas Joswick reads it as closer to the Romantic Doppelganger tale, as an “ordeal of self-recognition” via the narrator’s chase of the old man (his unknowable double), whereas Susan Elizabeth Sweeney reads it as the earliest example of Poe’s detective fiction, coming prior to the famous Dupin trilogy and more anticipatory of “gumshoe”, hard-boiled detective fiction of the 20th century than of the aloof ratiocination characteristic of Poe’s other detective tales (and inherited by Arthur Conan Doyle). T.O. Mabbott suggests that Poe’s story “is in the manner of the early Sketches by Boz of Charles Dickens” and that the old man, forever walking in and out of the crowd on the streets, is perhaps “Everyman”.
The Man of the Crowd Summary
“The Man of the Crowd” is a short, enigmatic tale by Poe. Narrated in the first person, it takes the form of a convalescent’s observations and analyses of the crowd of people moving past the bow window of the London coffee house in which he sits. The narrator, who has nearly recovered from his illness, finds pleasure in such social observation, commenting on the various types of people passing by especially their distinguishing characteristics, before having his attention arrested by one man in particular. This nameless old man is then followed closely by the now-masked narrator (who walks with a handkerchief over his mouth) for the rest of the tale. After 24 hours or so the narrator concludes that this man cannot be known, and is perhaps a professional in crime thereby reaffirming his initial suspicions of him.
The tale opens with an epigraph suggesting that the inability to be alone is a great evil, words taken from La Bruyère’s Les Caractères. The unnamed narrator then mentions a certain German book which “does not permit itself to be read (a phrase that will also end the tale), as introduction to his brief speculation on how “men die nightly” with hideous mysteries left in their heart that are never spoken, since they are too horrible to make public, and that because of this, “the essence of all crime is undivulged”
The narrator then reminisces on a recent episode in his life, when he found himself sitting “at the large bow window of the D- Coffee-House in London”, after having almost fully recovered from an illness. His newfound vigor and happiness find outlet in a curiosity for people and things around him, so that he amuses himself by smoking a cigar, glancing at advertisements in a newspaper, observing others in the coffee house, and peering from time to time through the bow window into the street, “one of the principal thoroughfares of the city”. As evening falls and the gas lamps are lit outside, the narrator chases the man and concludes he has committed a crime but then in some part it is as if the old man is him. two sides of a person like the old man is a secret side of the narrator. So he wanders for the disclosure of his crime and the narrator is able to identify little details and notices the crime because of the dagger. The narrator is the old man who of which is his alter ego which covers up a crime.
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It is a nice story that explicitly explains the dilemma of the modern man who is constantly running away from himself. The man in the story is on an unceasing run; he never lets himself to be alone and likes to remain in crowded places so that he can’t hear the voices of his guilt or regrets. Like all, Poe’s stories, the motive behind all this is unknown to the reader but reader is free to let his imagination work.
The Man of the Crowd Analysis
Poe’s famous tale “The Man of the Crowd” is something like the X-ray picture of a detective story. In it, the drapery represented by crime has disappeared. The mere armature has remained: the pursuer, the crowd, and an unknown man who arranges his walk through London in such a way that he always remains in the middle of the crowd. This unknown man is the flâneur. That is how Baudelaire interpreted him when, in his essay on Guys, he called the flâneur “l’homme des foules”. But Poe’s description of this figure is devoid of the connivance which Baudelaire had for it. To Poe the flâneur was, above all, someone who does not feel comfortable in his own company. That is why he seeks out the crowd; the reason why he hides in it is probably close at hand. Poe purposely blurs the difference between the asocial person and the flâneur. The harder a man is to find, the more suspicious he becomes. Refraining from a prolonged pursuit, the narrator quietly sums up his insight as follows:
“This old man … is the type and the genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd.”
Among the many things Baudelaire found to criticize about hated Brussels, one thing filled him with particular rage: “No shop-windows. Strolling, something that nations with imagination love, is not possible in Brussels. There is nothing to see, and the streets are unusable.” Baudelaire loved solitude, but he wanted it in a crowd. In the course of his story, Poe lets it grow dark. He lingers over the city by gaslight. The appearance of the street as an intérieur in which the phantasmagoria of the flâneur is concentrated is hard to separate from the the gaslight. The first gas-lamps burned in the arcades. The attempt to use them under the open sky was made in Baudelaire’s childhood; candelabra were placed on the Place Vendôme. Under Napoleon III the number of gas lanterns in Paris increased rapidly. This increased safety in the city made crowds feel at home in the open streets even at night, and removed the starry sky from the ambience of the big city more reliably than this was done by its tall buildings. “I draw the curtain behind the sun; now it has been put to bed, as is proper; henceforth I shall see no other light but that of the gas flame.” The moon and the stars are no longer worth mentioning.
The people in Poe’s story behave as if they could no longer express themselves through anything but a reflex action. These goings-on seem even more dehumanized because Poe talks only about people. If the crowd is jammed up, it is not because it is being impeded by vehicular traffic – there is no mention of it anywhere – but because it is being blocked by other crowds. In a mass of this nature the art of strolling could not flourish. In Baudelaire’s Paris things had not come to such a pass. Ferries were still crossing the Seine at points where later there would be bridges. In the year of Baudelaire’s death it was still possible for an entrepreneur to cater to the comfort of the well-to-do with a fleet of five hundred sedan chairs circulating about the city. Arcades where the flâneur would not be exposed to the sight of carriages that did not recognize pedestrians as rivals were enjoying undiminished popularity. There was the pedestrian who wedged himself into the crowd, but there was also the flâneur who demanded elbow room and was unwilling to forego the life of a gentleman of leisure. His leisurely appearance as a personality in his protest against the division of labour which makes people into specialists.
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