The Man of The Crowd

I had to write a paper which is a textual intervention of “The Man in the Crowd” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Here is a link to the story, and here is my essay with Textual Intervention.

I hope you enjoy.


THE MAN OF THE CROWD… A Textual Intervention.

Poe is said by many scholars to be the grandfather of detective fiction (Nicol 465+). In The Man of the Crowd we can see the rudiments of this, but the story does not fully develop the idea of a character of detective. Poe has not made it plain that the occupation of the narrator is a detective, although with the sleuth-like movements of the man, plus his comment about wearing “a pair of caoutcouc (rubber) over-shoes” (Poe and Van Leer 88) making him almost silent gives a hint to that. The detective story is fulfilled in the later written “Murders in the Rue Morgue”.

The narrator in the story tells us that he has been ill and is now recuperating (Poe and Van Leer 84). One can speculate that he was not suffering so much from a physical illness but rather an illness of the mind. His actions of pursuing the man for almost twenty four hours proves that he is physically well but a mental illness would go towards explaining his rather disturbing unconventional behaviour.

Commenting further on his physical well-being; the narrator does not seem overly concerned with his physical health; being out in the rain at night. He does mention that he has donned an overcoat, and when the air was moist, “tied a handkerchief about my mouth” (Poe and Van Leer 88).

The illness had given him a feeling of despair: “ennui” (Poe and Van Leer 84). It is from this feeling that such anxiety, and a racing of his mind is observed late at night. He states that he is now feeling quite the opposite; somewhat euphoric.  On first reflection, one might think he had an anxiety issue, perhaps monophobia, or the fear of being alone. He expressed that he is convalescent, but it seems he is not fully recovered.

The treatment of mental illness at the time were opiates, along with separation from society in asylums or, if wealthy, at home (Dickinson 419 – 424). If the narrator was indeed suffering from mental illness, and on opiates, this would go towards explaining the delusional thinking. The separation from society would go to explain his desire to reintegrate into society and the crowd.

He had gone to the coffee house where he became engaged with the practice of observing life. One wonders what manner of illness he had, to develop the fascination that the crowd holds for him. It is as if he hadn’t been part of this life for some time and now is observing it from the outside, pondering how again he can be reunited with it.  He speaks of having a greater awareness, heightened senses as if a film has been lifted from his eyes; his mind now clear (Poe and Van Leer 84).

The narrator is assessing all manner of pedestrians in the hope that he could identify with a class.  Perhaps he is thinking; “Where does he himself fit in and with whom could he walk?” The judging of people by their appearance may have been easier in this period, mid-19th Century. People of the same class, or the same occupation wore a similar style of dress, perhaps like a uniform. It is his inability to distinguish the class of the fellow he eventually follows which perks his curiosity. Had he not spied the elderly gentleman, one wonders when he would have left the café at all. Perhaps his fascination with the old man was to judge if this is a person to whom he could relate.

He does not like the look of the old fellow. In fact his description talks of his expression looking worse than a demon or devil drawn by the hand of the then well-known illustrator Retzsch (Poe and Leer 88).  His judgement of the old fellow, even after the following of him, is not warranted. It is because he does not like the look of the fellow that he has judged him so harshly as to have a heart more abhorrent than “Hortulus Animæ” (Poe and Van Leer 91).

The narrator has admitted he has a fever (Poe and Van Leer 88). One must wonder if he was in fact delusional. He thinks himself unseen by the crowd and most importantly by the old man whom he has chosen to follow.

This is where the textual intervention would be submitted.

“I grew wearied unto death, and stopping fully in front of the wanderer, gazed at him steadfastly in the face…” (Poe and Van Leer 91)

“Why are you following me?” he asked.

I was taken aback, I stumbled and stammered. “I, I…”

“For God sake man, leave me alone.” He opened his roquelaire to reveal, what I had perceived correctly to be, the dagger.

“You have followed me all night trying to get your hands on my dearly departed wife’s last treasure. If you don’t stop following me, I shall draw my dagger and be forced to thrust it into your bosom sir.”

“I beg your pardon,” said I “I did not mean to offend, merely to satisfy a curiosity” I bowed.

The old man growled, brought his cloak close around himself, stepped around me and again thrust himself into the throng of people walking swiftly upon the rue.

I opened the door to D— coffee house and stepped inside to the welcome heat of the hearth fire, slipped off my overcoat and ordered for coffee to be brought to the window table where again I would observe life.

The old man himself was unable to recognise the class of the narrator, which left him ill at ease, knowing that this man was following him and was perhaps a potential thief.

The narrator had mistakenly judged the fellow as evil, when the countenance he was displaying was that of abject grief. With the confrontation came the sudden realisation to the narrator that he was indeed acting irrationally.

The intervention brings the story to a conclusion. By doing so, the confrontation has brought to a halt the anonymity of both the old man and the narrator. The intervention uncovers the mystery, permitting the telling of a secret that was not permitted to be told. One speculates that Poe would not have approved.

It would do the story a great dis-service if the intervention were accepted as credible. The readers must accept that some secrets are best left untold and read the story for what it is; a work of art produced by this master wordsmith.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan, and David Van Leer. Selected Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Dickinson, Emily. ‘From Madness to Mental Health: A Brief History of Psychiatric Treatments in the                                                              UK from 1800 to the Present’. Journal of occupational therapy 53.10 (1990): 419- 424.

Web.   7 Apr. 2015.

Nicol, Bran. “Reading and not reading ‘The Man of the Crowd’: Poe, the city, and the gothic text.              “Philological                         Quarterly 91.3 (2012): 465+. Academic OneFile. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

1 Comment

Filed under literature

One response to “The Man of The Crowd

  1. Dave,
    This reads so well. I really enjoyed your retelling of the story and your entirely appropriate innovation on the text.
    Characters are well drawn and suitably mysterious at the same time.
    I like structure of the essay.
    Good job.

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