Literary Analysis Essay on Never Bet the Devil Your Head by Edgar Allan Poe

2021-06-16 05:33:32
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Harvey Mudd College
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Essay
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Throughout the history of literature, writers often interject their own lives into their stories. Edgar Allan Poe is no exception. In fact, according to Moreland and Rodriquez, There is a connection between every short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and his life (206). In Poes Never Bet the Devil Your Head, Toby Dammit, the main character, reflects Poes harsh early life, his values growing up, and the addictions which plague Poes life.

Toby Dammits early life reveals many of the same hardships of Poes early life. For example, Dammit suffers abuse by his parent as a child. His mother did her best in the way of flogging him while an infant ( ). . . . .babies....are better for beating... (Complete Tales and Poems), shows his mothers propensity to abuse Dammit. Likewise, Poe, too, suffers abuse at the hand of a foster father. At the early age of two, Poes mother dies soon after his father abandons the family. A wealthy family takes Poe in to raise. The foster fathers belief in spare the rod and spoil the child, similar to Dammits mothers belief, results in daily beatings of Edgar.

In addition, both men experience an early life of poverty. Dammits life reflects the poverty in which he lives. Poverty was another vice which Dammits mother had entailed upon her son. He was detestably poor... (document).Similarly, Poes foster father, although wealthy, refuses to share his money with Poe thrusting Poe into poverty when he goes to college This situation causes Poe to become a heavy drinker and gambler who accumulates many debts causing him to drop out of school (document).

Moreover, Toby Dammit portraits the values of Edgar Allan Poe. For instance, when Toby approaches the bridge, the narrator of Never Bet the Devil Your Head, notices that Dammit is in an uncharacteristic happy mood. It was not impossible that [Dammit] was affected with the transcendentals ( document ), which is considered a disease (document). As a moral tale, Poes short story makes fun of transcendentalists, their literature, and popular writing ingeneral (Hammond 93).

Following along the idea of a moral tale slightly further it is possible that the conveyed moral is not for a specific group of people but rather for Poe himself. Many believe Poe to be anti-transcendentalist because of the way human depravity prevails in his works. He holds the opinion that transcendentalism is selfish, unrealistic and naive, with nature being cosmic and inexplicable as it reflects the thin line between good and evil (Document). Even Tobys body being sold as dog food reflects a fate that probably fits someone who suffers from the disease of transcendentals (document).

Poe was considered by many as an anti-transcendentalist because of the way human depravity was prevalent in his works. He was of the opinion that transcendentalism was selfish, unrealistic and naive, with nature being cosmic and inexplicable as it reflected the thin line between good and evil. Apart from the evident rubbishing of the so-called morality tale and the sarcastic humor, Never Bet the Devil Your Head also takes a satirical sweep at transcendentalism. For instance, when Toby approaches the bridge, the narrator notices that he is in an uncharacteristic happy mood. There is a likelihood that he is suffering from the transcendentals, which is considered a disease. Also, when Toby loses his head, it is noted that he was not given a break from his terrible loss for long. Following his death, the narrator sends his funeral bill to be settled by the transcendentalists, only for them to decline. This situation causes Tobys body to be sold as dogs, a fate that probably fits someone who is suffering from the disease of the transcendentals. Edgar Allan Poe was probably referring to the transcendental notion of direct communication with God. If Toby can communicate with God, then it is also possible for him to talk to the devil. However, the results turn out to be both funny and disastrous. As a moral tale, Poes short story makes fun of transcendentalists, their literature, and popular writing in general (Hammond 93).

A critical analysis of the bets' in each sentence provides a different understanding of the character by showing an immoral and vulgar habit. As a matter of fact, the immoral behavior was discountenanced by the social values and forbidden in various communities. Consequently, the betting was not readily accepted by the society where the storys audience was targeted (Dern 165). It is evident that Poe uses Dammits character to teach the reader a lesson based on the experiences of his own life. Concerning the scene on the covered bridge, the plot falls into different criticisms. Firstly, the scene is described as gloomy and dark but Dammit still has his good mood on making bets. Secondly, as he is crossing the bridge with his friend, he decides to take a leap on the bridge and bets the devil his head if he fails to make the jump. According to Halliburton the presence of an old man that provides a head start for Dammit does not make sense to the readers because he would not get into such a dumb idea (131). Moreover, he would not keep up with Dammits pace while running to make the leap. In this case, the narrator also wonders how an old man would entice Dammit into making the attempt.

Finally, Dammit and Poes lives parallel the addiction to gambling each share. Both Poe and Dammit have a habit of placing bets at various points within their lives. Upon his acceptance and joining of the University of Virginia in the mid-1820s, Poe does not have enough money for his tuition which causes him to resort to gambling as a way of raising funds but instead accumulating debt. The consequences of Poes gambling habit are reflected in what happens to Dammit after he habitually places bets on a regular basis. After Dammit betting the devil his head, a mysterious man appears and accepts resulting in the death of Toby Dammit. One final gamble in Poes life costs him all his money in hopes of furthering his career while Dammits head was lost because of his gambling addiction. Both gamble away things they cannot be without and in the end lose it all.

Never Bet the Devil Your Head inspired a short film that reflected on the biography of Edgar Allan Poe. Incidentally, the film it titled Toby Dammit, and is about one of the characters from the short story. While it is not based much on the story, the decadence that is part of its themes matches quite well with Poes own morbidity. Toby is an alcoholic and drug-addicted Shakespearean actor whose miserable life is somewhat similar to that of the author. He goes to Italy to star in the first ever catholic western movie after being promised that he will be given an expensive sports car. However, he soon finds out that he is being haunted by visions of the devil that appears in the form of a creepy blonde young woman. The films second half features a phantomlike joyride as a demented Toby drives through the streets of Rome in the car only to end up tragically. The tragic end could be likened with Poes own end after an unhappy life. the short story shows there is an apparent link between Toby Dammits betting addiction and Poe own gambling habit in real life in that they both did it due to lack of finances. Toby came from a poor family; something that made him resort to placing bets in an attempt to make money. On the other hand, although Poes adopted parents were significantly well off, they did not give him sufficient funds to cover all his expenses while in university. Hence, he resorted to gambling in order to raise money for tuition fees. The gambling habits for both men have dire consequences. Toby makes a bet with the devil, loses it, and ends up dead. Poe accumulated a lot of debts that made him drop out of school, become an alcoholic and eventually died of alcohol-related complications.

Ultimately, Poe and Dammit are very similar when it comes to their early lives, their value and their gambling addiction. It can be concluded that Toby and Poe are quite possibly the same person. The reflection is clear in the sense that the events present in the life of Toby Dammit are actual events that Poe himself encountered throughout his lifetime. It can be inferred from there that Toby is not just another character in a story but rather he is Poe himself being revived throughout the course of his short story Never Bet the Devil Your Head.

Works Cited

Dern, John A. "A Sense of Stile: Rhetoric in Edgar Allan Poe's Never Bet the Devil Your Head." The Edgar Allan Poe Review 14.2 (2013): 163-177.

Halliburton, David. Edgar Allen Poe: A Phenomenological View. Princeton University Press, 2015. Print.

Hammond, John R. An Edgar Allan Poe companion: a guide to the short stories, romances and essays. Springer, 2016. Print.

Moreland, Clark T., and Karime Rodriguez. "Never Bet the Devil Your Head: Fuseli's The Nightmare and Collapsing Masculinity in Poe's The Black Cat." The Edgar Allan Poe Review 16.2 (2015): 204-220.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Never Bet the Devil Your Head. Booklassic, 2015. Print.

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