Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Questioning the Canon: Francesco Pareja - PJ Carter

PJ Carter
ENG 226
Professor Coronado
Questioning the Canon
Francisco Pareja’s “Confessionario” details the experiences of 11 priests and the Native Americans they encounter in the early 1600s, published in 1632. This glimpse inside the minds of these religious fundamentalist settlers who laid the foundations of our society offers insight into the mindsets that shaped what we are as a country, as well as a better understanding of the whos and whys of our history. We can see the origins of lessons we’ve learned as a country, as well as lessons we failed to learn, and the consequences of those actions. Among these are the establishment of the separation of church and state, the often forgotten history of non-English colonial settlements, as well as the views of pre-American settlers and their tolerance of other belief systems.
Preceding the valuable notion of the Separation of Church and State, our country’s earliest origins are religious in nature. Many of the early settlers were priests and pilgrims, separatists and puritans. However, rather than contradicting our origins, this ideal can actually be explained by our origins. The fledgling government recognized the poisonous mixture of politics and religion, and this realization comes from the past mistakes of the early colonists. The actual language comes from a letter Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State,” (Jefferson). This is an important turn of events given the state of the settlers in Pareja’s time. Many of the colonies founded in the Americas were religious in nature. In his non-fiction novel “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford writes of his life while establishing the Plymouth colony in North America, “They … set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many fairies, or furies rather) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians” (Bradford, 127). This passage shows the extent to which the pilgrims lashed out at anything they perceived as conflicting with their Christian ideals. As is fictionalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The May-Pole of Merry Mount,” The Plymouth colonists later raided the Merry Mount settlement, using firearms to impose their will on their neighbors, judging it a righteous reaction to the blasphemy of the other settlement. The religious persecution suffered by the pilgrims, and in turn inflicted by them onto others is one of the situations the United States sought to prevent when constructing their constitution.
This text is also a valuable example of non-English settlement in North America. The Spanish friars demonstrate that pre-American settlements were founded by people of a multitude of nationalities. As explained by Professors Mintz & McNeil , a major factor that separated the Spanish colonies from the more successful English settlements was the balance of gender that allowed the English to expand their population much faster than the nearly or all male Spanish colonies could ever hope to. This all male population was indicative of settlements like Pareja’s, which were missionary in purpose, meaning they would be staffed by monks. English colonies were founded largely by groups fleeing religious persecution seeking to establish permanent settlements, while many Spanish settlements were intended as missions or military occupations. This, along with Spain’s extremely restricting limitations on trade, served to smother their New World economy.
Much can be learned about the values of pre-American settlers through this document, and the shaping of American values and attitudes became rather evident by the rules and guidelines offered by Pareja. Pareja asks such questions as: “Have you defeated someone by stealth? Have you lied in games?” and “Are you a doctor? …Have you produced a new fire or made a fire apart to cure someone? Have you believed that with these prayers and superstitions a person can be cured?” (Pareja). This and other questions reveal how preoccupied these men were with discounting the occult for its blasphemous attributes with disregard for the inherent value of the aboriginal culture, leading to its complete erasure. The difference in culture and level of tolerance for those differences are very apparent in Pareja’s work. Editor Mikaela Perron states that “Pareja uses the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins… as a guide to help [the] Timucuans change some of their cultural practices and to show them how to practice confession, a prerequisite for communion,” (Pareja). Statements like, “Leave that evil prayer because it is perverse, cure only with medicine,” (Pareja). And questions like “The new maize or other new fruits, have you said that it will not be eaten until the sorcerer tastes it first? Have you arranged that someone be married according to the Indian ways without first giving notice to the parish priests? Have you consented that your slaves sleep together?” (Pareja) all show the cultural superiority Europeans felt towards native cultures. The text displays the mentality necessary to the ideals of a missionary; belief in the superiority of one’s own faith over that of others, with little concern or interest in the knowledge and richness of the Timucuan way of life. This was made evident in their classification of the Timucuan culture as something to be confessed as a sin, because it conflicted with aspects of the European Christian culture the monks brought with them. This view of Native Americans has influenced the United States well into the 20th century and beyond. The cycle of cultural oppression and abuse carried through in the form of Indian Boarding Schools. Reminiscent of pre-American treatment of Native Americans, though on a grand, institutionalized scale, the government forcibly abducted hundreds of thousands of Native american children and imprisoned them in schools where they were forbidden to speak their native languages or use their birth names.
Even in just the isolated, though well-documented case of Francisco Pareja and his fellow priests, it can be seen how events built off of these simple building blocks set by  the earliest settlers and their interactions with the native people. In many ways, things could never have played out much differently given the cultures of the native people and the European interlopers. Much of the basic history of our country was set in motion not by pure luck and chance, but by the nature of the peoples involved. Though Pareja’s work is centuries old, it offers insight into the perspective of many early colonists. A perspective of civilized, godly folk descending into a barbaric land among heathen natives. Though some Europeans focused on converting native populations to Christianity and others made war with them, the sentiment of hostility and low regard for Native American culture is carried through to the 20th century.

Works Cited
Pareja, Francisco. "Francisco Pareja, Confessionario." Early Visions of Florida.
    N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. <http://earlyfloridalit.net/?page_id=94>.
Kanellos, Nicolás. "Education." Hispanic Firsts: 500 Years Of Extraordinary Achievement (1997): 40-56. History Reference Center. Web. 1 Oct. 2012.
Jefferson, Thomas. "Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists." loc.gov. June 1998. US National Archives. 17 Nov. 2012.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647. New York: Random House, 1981.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Selected Tales and Sketches. Stilwell: Digireads.com, 2007.
Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2012). European Colonization North of Mexico. Digital History. 19 Nov. 2012.
Mintz, S., & McNeil, S. (2012). Spanish Colonization. Digital History. 19 Nov. 2012.

Confederate Eyes of the Civil War Jimmy Gibbs

Jimmy Gibbs
Eng. 226
Prof. Coronado
Confederate Eyes of the Civil War
            From 1861 to 1865 the United States of America became divided. The war that would claim the most American lives in the history of the country began in 1861 with the secession of several states from the Union and ultimately the attack on Fort Sumter on April Second which would be considered the official start of the Civil War (Time Line of Civil War). During the Civil War the country was split, the North against the South, the Union against the Confederacy, the Union being lead by President Lincoln, and the Confederacy and their newly established government lead by Confederate President Davis. Today, most of the history we receive regarding the Civil War is told from the Union point of view with the success of President Lincoln in reuniting the country with what is seen as his biggest accomplishment which was the Emancipation Proclamation, or the freeing of the slaves in America. It is rare, however, to get a good sense of the history of the Civil War from a Confederate point of view, the point of view of the people living in the south that were part of the rebellion against the Union, at least in the Northern parts of the country. With the primary texts of James Dorman Davidson, I will provide a history some are not familiar with, the history of this time from a Confederate viewpoint.
            The writings of James D. Davidson are a part of a larger collection known as The McCormick Collection. It is a vast collection of writings from the south, mainly from the state of Virginia. James D. Davidson was a respected member of the Virginian community and well known by many that were involved in politics due to his occupation, which was a lawyer. James. D. Davidson was born in Virginia in 1808 to a Presbyterian minister and would spend his life in Virginia. He would go on to graduate from Washington College in 1828 and passed the bar in 1831 and would move to Lexington to practice law for almost half a century (A guide to James D. Davidson). His politics would change a bit over the years, starting out as a Whig and eventually moving on to become a democrat and eventually a Unionist. While practicing law in Lexington, Davidson would eventually come to be an owner of the Virginia Life Insurance Company and through that company would play a large role in helping southerners purchase insurance for their slaves. It was through this business and also his practicing of law that he would make connections with several politically involved men in Virginia and would become also involved in Virginia’s secession from the Union.
            While a majority of the writings included in the collection of the Davidson Papers are legal notes and business notes there are a good amount of personal writings to family members, such as Greenlee Davidson, one of his sons, and writings that talk about secession and Slavery and also soldiers for the Confederate army. Also included in the works is a journal written by Greenlee Davidson during his travels of the Northwest when he visited the State of Ohio and Illinois where he spent most of his time in Chicago. From these writings a good sense of the confederate view point is presented and the issue of slavery throughout the confederacy is presented in a different light, not necessarily a better light, but still a different light.
            Slavery is, at times, the main issue that is discussed when talking about the Civil War; the Union became separated between Free states and Slave states, or in other words, states that did not own slaves in the north and states that did own slaves in the south. While the practice of slave trading and owning is, a dark and terrible aspect of the country’s history, it did play a huge role in the economy of the South and had for many years before the Civil War. So with the Emancipation Proclamation that would eventually free all the slaves in 1863, the south’s economy would fall apart. Contained in the Davidson Collection are some correspondences to James D. Davidson regarding slaves. Many of them are regarding payments owed and made to the Virginia Life Insurance Company for insurance purchased for slaves. There is one very interesting letter written to Davidson, though, that would come to him after the Emancipation Proclamation was made by Lincoln. On February 15th, 1863, Davidson received a letter that came from a camp 3 miles from Richmond, Virginia regarding the “negroes” at the camp, one of them being Davidson’s “man.” The correspondence is signed by a W. H. Ott and it is regarding the health of the Negroes in the camp. He writes in the letter at one point, “I have written to several persons in regard to the rations the Negroes get which is certainly too light for them to work on” (Davidson Papers). He goes on to write that that bread and beef rations they are receiving at the camp are too light for their daily workload and this is what is causing so many of them to fall ill and he recommends that they be sent extra bread and bacon so they can have a proper rationing of food to go along with their daily work load.
            This is an interesting letter from the collection because it is only a month after the Emancipation Proclamation has been made, but slavery still wasn’t 100% illegal, yet there is still some care being expressed on behalf of the black slaves/former slaves that are working in this camp in Richmond. While this might not have been the case regarding slaves throughout the entire confederacy, it was for Davidson and his community. Another important fact that it shows is that slavery was a business, while it is a tragic and terrible business to buy, sell and trade fellow human beings as property, this unfortunately was the way it was at the time, and for a long time before that. This letter expresses the concern for the property of others, and the well being of the “negroes” is a concern for the people because it is their money at line if they should fall ill and be unable or unfit to work. With this we get an understanding that slavery was a way of life for many southerners and the Union was infringing on their way of life and their livelihood by emancipating the slaves.
            Another interesting piece included in the collection is a speech that James D. Davidson wrote regarding secession from the Union. He wrote the speech and would present it at the Virginia Convention in March of 1861. It holds a lot of valuable information as to why he viewed secession as the way to go for Virginians. The speech is written with beautiful language that would suggest Davidson was a well-mannered speaker, and having practiced law for so long in Lexington, it would be no surprise at all that he would be able and willing to speak to a crowd regarding certain politics. One of the passages from the beginning of his speech says, “I shall not attempt to penetrate the veil that conceals the great future- sufficient for me if I address myself to the day, nay of the hour and the moment” (Davidson Papers). He also goes on to say that “The secession of Virginia is now, unless the terms of reformation are arranged at the time,” “Virginia is sovereign and independent, but has contracted and imposed on herself certain obligations which she cannot throw off at will and without responsibility to her co-states” (Davidson Papers). He goes on in the speech to talk about the government of Virginia having responsibilities that the Union is not allowing them to follow up on and this is why Virginia will be forced to secede from the Union if changes are not made.
            James D. Davidson would have three sons that would end up being killed in battle during the Civil War, including Greenlee, who he would maintain correspondence with in order to organize weapon deliveries to support to ill equipped confederate soldiers in certain areas until his death. So to say that Davidson was no invested in the war would be untrue. After the war came to an end Davidson would continue to practice law without the obvious providing life insurance to slaves. He would also continue to be involved in politics in Virginia sending petitions to President Andrew Johnson for men to join the army of Rockbridge County, Virginia. These papers do provide a fascinating look at the politics and practices of some Confederate supporters. While it is not a blanket opinion from all southern confederates, it does contain the opinions of many people from Virginia, since Davidson was in communication with many of them and did business with many as well. He served as a spokesperson for the people of Virginia. They are important papers to read because they provide an insight into such a major aspect of this country’s history that is rarely touched upon, especially in the north, since we see the heroes of the Civil War as Lincoln and Grant and so on, and that the Civil War was fought to end slavery, when in reality it was fought to keep the south from succeeding in establishing their own government free from the federal Union, which is expressed in these letters from James. D. Davidson.

Works Cited
James D. Davidson Papers. James Dorman Davidson. 1805-1885. The McCormick Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison. Print
“A Guide To James D. Davidson Letters, 1860-1865.” Briscoe Center for American History. Electronic
Time Line of the Civil War. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/tl1861.html. Electronic.

Kami Fortner Final Post "Freedom Through Faith"

Kami Fortner

Dr. Coronado

English 226

December 13, 2012

Freedom Through Faith:

Puritanism as a Means for Female Autonomy in Soveraignty and the Goodness of God

            In Soveraignty and Goodness of God Mary Rowlandson (d. 1711) offers a striking account of her captivity amongst Native Americans during King Philip’s War.  Rowlandson was taken from her home in Lancaster, Massachusetts on 10 February 1976.  She remained in captivity for eighty-three days before being released (Leach 352).  As the wife of a Puritan minister, Rowlandson was very pious and loyal to her faith throughout the duration of her captivity.  Although given many opportunities for escape, Rowlandson placed her fate and ultimately her redemption into the hands of God.  Moreover, she chose to remain captive until released willingly by her captors.  Her story conveys a woman, one who was not afforded much freedom, finding opportunity to exercise her agency while being held prisoner.  Additionally, she provides insight into differences between the natives and colonial settlers and illustrates the importance of faith and predestination to the Calvinist settlers of America.  Her tale offers opportunities for wonderful analysis, both historical and literary, as she weaves a tale of loss and restoration through her faith and virtue.

            Rowlandson’s account is important because it is a fascinating account of the strength of faith in Puritan America.  Her religious beliefs provide meaning and reason behind all of the harrowing trials she endures throughout her captivity.  Through her faith, Mary is able to subvert the implications of her captivity and instead makes a conscientious choice to place her fate in God’s hands, believing that His “providence” would deliver her from this trial unscathed.  This mindset provides insight into the machinations that propelled the beliefs of America’s earliest settlers; the Puritans believed that God would protect those he favored and that “Divine Providence” would deliver those individuals from pain and suffering (Rowlandson 5).

Rowlandson’s narrative opens with a recollection of the Battle of Lancaster, during which she lost her sister and much of her other family.  If not for Rowlandson’s memoir, the intricacies of this skirmish would likely have been forgotten (Hamilton 287).  Rowlandson remembers the last moments of her sister’s life and her own initial captivity:

. . . the bulletts flying thick, one went through my side, and the same (as would seem) through the bowels and hand of my dear Child in my arms. One of my elder Sisters Children, named William, had then his Leg broken, which the Indians perceiving, they knockt him on head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless Heathen, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels. My eldest Sister being yet in the House, and seeing those wofull sights, the Infidels haling Mothers one way, and Children another, and some wallowing in their blood: and her elder Son telling her that her Son William was dead, and my self was wounded, she said, And, Lord, let me dy with them; which was no sooner said, but she was struck with a Bullet, and fell down dead over the threshold. I hope she is reaping the fruit of her good labours, being faithfull to the service of God in her place. (Rowlandson 14)

Rowlandson has experienced great pain and suffering; she has seen her family slain around and she and her youngest child survived a bullet wound.  She contrasts the domesticity and docile nature of her family with the savage and “merciless Heathen”.  Throughout this chaotic and harrowing ordeal, Rowlandson finds strength and comfort in God and places her fate in his hands.  Rowlandson’s sister, on the other hand, asks God for guidance in a different way.  She prays to be stricken down after bearing the loss of her child and the fear of losing her sister; in Rowlandson’s eyes, this prayer is answered in the form of a bullet that leads her sister to eternal peace and happiness.  These women have both used their faith in God to provide guidance and make separate decisions following their suffering and loss.  Their Puritan ideology that God will provide for his people is seen in this moment, and throughout the rest of Rowlandson’s recollection.  This account of The Battle of Lancaster provides the modern reader with a slice of Early American life, where tensions between early colonists and the nation’s natives were high and often resulted in bloody battles and also provides insight into the belief that God would provide for His people in any way they required.

            Rowlandson notes that this harsh trial gave her a chance to make decisions in the face of God, “I had often before this said, that if the Indians should come, I should chuse rather to be killed by them then taken alive but when it came to the tryal my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit, that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous Beasts, then that moment to end my dayes” (Rowlandson 16).  This initial decision is followed up by many others during the period of her captivity where she actively chooses to take on roles and responsibilities to earn her way to freedom, rather than sit passively by and wait for outside forces to act upon her (Hamilton 296).

            As Rowlandson begins her journey, she views her captors as savage, brutal, and immoral.  By highlighting the differences between their values and her own, she highlights the virtue of a Puritan background and Puritan society to her colonial audience.  This places her as a more virtuous and trustworthy woman, contrasted against the Native American women depicted in her text (Potter 155).  She contrasts herself and the people of her Puritan community against the natives, and asserts their powerlessness against the Will of God:

That God is indeed the supream Lord of the world, ruling the most unruly, weakening the most cruel and salvage, granting his People mercy in the sight of the unmercifull, curbing the lusts of the most filthy, holding the hands of the violent, delivering the prey from the mighty, and gathering together the out casts of Israel. Once and again you have heard, but hear you may see, that power belongeth unto God; that our God is the God of Salvation, and to him belong the issues from Death. (Rowlandson 10)

Despite their ability to capture and rule over her, she has been redeemed through the guidance of God and has been favored by providence.  For Rowlandson, her captors and their culture exude a veritable laundry list of sinful rule and action.  This elevates the status of her people and their culture and way of life – for a people who built their “City on a Hill” to look down upon those outside of their culture, Rowlandson’s story portrays “sense of superiority” and privilege that Puritans felt towards outsiders.  They were the chosen, and would be protected and saved by God to live eternally, those outside of their culture were prone to sin and unredeemable (Potter 155).  This illustrates the source of tension between Puritan settlers and the natives: an ingrained sense of difference between people of unfamiliar races and cultures.  The Puritan belief that white settlers were inherently superior to their native counterparts pervades this text and provides context to this piece as well as other Early American pieces.  This belief pervades the texts of 17th Century America and will be echoed throughout the nation’s literary history in the form of texts that grapple with issues like slavery and colonization that still affect the cultural fabric of America today.

            Rowlandson again notes in her conclusion that in order to survive her trial, she had to place her fate in the hands of God, “the Lord hath shewed me the vanity of these outward things. That they are the Vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit; that they are but a shadow, a blast, a bubble, and things of no continuance. That we must rely on God himself, and our whole dependance must be upon him” (Rowlandson 71).  The things she has lost were merely vanities, but she has come out with a greater understanding of God’s plan.  She cannot question His acts now, but she has passed this trial put in place by God and she reconciles the experience as a part of God’s plan for her.  She could have taken her fate into her own hands and left at any number of times, but she believed that her Lord would redeem her.  Rowlandson uses this experience to exercise her agency, practice her religion, and exert her beliefs of superiority over the natives.  Her narrative illustrates tension between two clashing cultures and exhibits early American Puritan ideologies.  This tale positions a woman in a place where she is held prisoner and is unable to escape from the expectations of her status in a particular society, but shows how she can subvert that within her new role and then bring those experiences back to Puritan society.  Mary Rowlandson’s tale provides opportunity to experience her individual spiritual trial and shows how one can subvert patriarchy and imprisonment through strength of faith.

            One should walk away from Mary Rowlandson’s Soveraignty and the Goodness of God with a greater understanding of the ties that held Early American culture together – these people were not only adhered to one another their shared faith, but driven by a fear unknown and “savage” cultures.  Religious belief implied that these natives were members of the Other and that their existence was irreconcilable with the ideals of America’s earliest colonists.  To exist among them and return to Puritan society, restored to one’s former position would have been to overcome the harshest trial of the New World.  This text captivated Rowlandson’s Early Modern audience and is relevant to understanding the religious and racial dynamics that today’s America was founded on.

Works Cited

Hamilton, Amy, and Tom Hillard. "Before the West Was West: Rethinking the Temporal Borders of Western American Literature." Western American Literature 287.307 (2012): n. pag. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. 
Leach, Douglas. "The 'Whens' of Mary Rowlandson's Captivity." New England Quarterly 34.3 (1961): 252-63. JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. 
Potter, Tiffany. "Writing Indigenous Femininity: Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of Captivity." Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.2 (2003): 153-67. JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
Rowlandson, Mary. "Soveraignty and Goodness of God: An Electronic Edition." Early Americas Digital Archive. N.p., 2002. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://mith.umd.edu/eada/html/display.php?docs=rowlandson_narrative.xml>.

Premature Burial Final Draft

Jared Wright
Archive Assignment
Final Revision

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial”
Edgar Allan Poe had a captivating way of telling horror stories. From poetry to fiction, Poe’s diligent approach to cohesive writing and reliability to the audience set his works apart from most other American authors published during the nineteenth century. His ideas were thoroughly thought out, craftily worded, and specifically structured in attempt to terrify the reader; therefore, his success was heavily based on the audience’s perception of his work. Transitioning his creative story structures into popular themes among American society’s current affairs and social norms, Poe was able to establish a developing rapport with his readers. His works were often published in local newspapers where they were accessible to common folk living the Northeast. One way Poe was able to commandeer the attention of his readers was by presenting typical fears among society, such as being buried alive in the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper periodical, “The Premature Burial”. The presentation of the hushed taboos of American society and the narrator’s eventual overcoming of his cripple fear are prime reasons why Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial” should be included within the canon of early American Literature.
Born January 1st, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, Poe was the son of travelling actors (www.poemuseum.org). He became accustomed to hardship at a very young age when his mother passed away of Tuberculosis. His father left Poe up for adoption, and he was taken in by John Allan and his wife. Allan was a successful tobacco merchant; therefore, Poe was able to attend some of the best private schools along the east coast and eventually enrolled at the University of Virginia. Due to a lack of funds, he dropped out of the university and moved back to Richmond, only to find out that his foster mother had passed away, like his birth mother, of Tuberculosis. This tragedy led him back to his hometown of Boston, where he enlisted at West Point Academy, and published his first collection of poems. The Academy expelled Poe after only eight months of service, and Edgar Allan found his way to Baltimore, where he found out his foster-father, Allan, had passed away.  He then married his cousin Virginia, who was only fourteen years old at the time of their matrimony. The couple was very much in love, and very much in poverty; which resulted in the Poe family relocating time and time again along the Northeast. While spending time in Philadelphia, Poe worked for the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, where he published “The Premature Burial” in 1844. Less than three years after its publication, Poe’s wife, Virginia, died of Tuberculosis. This loss devastated Poe, and a few years later, he too, passed away (www.poemuseum.org).                                                                Poe’s background indicates that he had an unpleasantly familiar relationship with death and the process of dying. An orphan by the age of three, adversity was something Poe was forced to adjust to at a very young age. These experiences may explain some of the content within his poems, specifically, “The Premature Burial.” Obviously, dealing with grievance was not an exclusive issue to Poe, as many of his readers too, experienced the hardship of losing a loved one(s). Poe recognized this and utilized these themes to create some of the most terrifying short stories in the history of literature. Up to this point in American literature, many writers such as William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, and even fellow dark romanticist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, presented themes of death and dying in their writings, but they typically did so in a religious sense. These authors discussed the consequences that arise after death based on one’s obedience or disloyalty to God. Hawthorne even questioned the morality of science, and its manipulative powers that contradict the Christian religion. Poe, however, focused on the mental torments of fearing death itself, and the psychological battle one must endure to overcome it. “The Premature Burial” takes this theme even further, by presenting a protagonist with catalepsy who is plagued with thoughts of being buried alive.                             During the 19th century, when medical technology was still primitive, death was a morbid yet controversial topic among society. Oddly, taboo topics such as being buried alive made their way into common conversation. Poe had this in mind when he wrote “The Premature Burial” for the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, emphasizing his own troubles within a story that not only relates to its audience, but also effectively portrays society’s perception of a surprisingly popular taboo subject. These perceptions were developed by real life examples of people awakening after they have been assumed dead and buried. Steve Semiatin references one of these horrific tales in a periodical published in History Magazine, “In the 1850s, a young girl in South Carolina supposedly died of diphtheria. She was quickly interred in the family mausoleum because it was feared the disease might otherwise spread. When one of the family’s sons died years later, in the Civil War, the tomb was opened to admit him. A tiny skeleton was found on the floor just behind the heavy stone door. (History Magazine 11.5 (2010):9-11)” 
Polish researcher Natalia Wójcicka points out in her article “The Living Dead: the Uncanny and Nineteenth-Century Moral Panic over Premature Burial” that premature burial was such a frightening topic that legislature was passed in order to prevent it:
[n]o body shall be received [into the morgue] unless a statement on the part of an attending physician or Coroner, whether he has found the following signs of death or not, is with it: First – Permanent cessation of respiration and circulation. Second – Purple discoloration of the dependent parts of the body. Third – Appearance of blistering around a part of the skin touched with a red hot iron. Fourth – The characteristic stiffness known as rigor mortis. Fifth –Signs of decomposition. (“To Stop Premature Burial” 1899: 3)”
Furthermore, American entrepreneurs even found ways to capitalize on this common fear. Wojcicka points out that a few companies patented an alarm system for coffins, just in case one was to awaken from their “terminal” state: “In the spirit of the Industrial Revolution, innumerable plans for vaults allowing proper ventilation, with their own food and water supplies and the means of communicating with the outside, were drawn. Blueprints of so-called “alarm” or “safety” coffins, equipped with mechanisms that would set off an alarm signal in response to the slightest movement of the body within, were created, patented and sold.” Not only did these “safety” coffins exist, they were a popular item, selling thousands a year (USPTO, patent number 4,367,461). Steve Semiatin addresses in his periodical in History Magazine that “Even our heroic first president, George Washington, supposedly had such a dread of being buried alive that he ordered his servants to allow his corpse to remain in his bed for three days, to be jabbed and prodded with needles to verify his death before being laid to rest. (History Magazine 11.5 (2010):9-11)”
            This societal phobia of premature burial, or Taphophobia, was rooted within a lack of medical technology and procedure in pronouncing someone as ‘deceased’. In many cases, medical conditions that may cause its victim to appear to be dead, such as the narrator’s case of catalepsy, led physicians to pronounce a patient as deceased without any procedure to confirm that the subject was, in fact, no longer alive. According to George K. Behlmer’s journal article of British studies: “Late-Victorian fears about premature burial constituted a moral panic‟ in the sociological sense of that term” as they contained the three traits characteristic for this sociological phenomenon which “involves popular overreaction to a perceived threat,” has a “tendency to occur when ethical boundaries seem blurred,” and becomes a “process by which disciplinary agents – police, prosecutors and judges – help vilify the socially marginal. (2003;42(2):206-235” Although Behlmer’s points out that Taphophobia was generally an overreaction to folklore and actually stemmed from a lack of legislation requiring a physician to physically examine the patient before pronouncing him or her dead, the fear itself still existed. For someone who suffered from a disease such as catalepsy, thoughts of waking up in a coffin could lead to madness as it does for the narrator in the story. His vulnerability allows the reader to emotionally connect with the character while developing a relationship that allows Poe to convince him or her into sharing these same fears. This becomes evident when the narrator describes the perimeters of his condition:
Its variations seem to be chiefly of degree. Sometimes the patient lies, for a day only, or even for a shorter period, in a species of exaggerated lethargy. He is senseless and externally motionless; but the pulsation of the heart is still faintly perceptible; some traces of warmth remain; a slight color lingers within the centre of the cheek; and, upon application of a mirror to the lips, we can detect a torpid, unequal, and vacillating action of the lungs. Then again the duration of the trance is for weeks—even for months; while the closest scrutiny, and the most rigorous medical tests, fail to establish any material distinction between the state of the sufferer and what we conceive of absolute death.” (Poe, “The Premature Burial”)
Even if the fear of premature burial was over-exaggerated during this period, such conditions could lead anyone to believe it was a possibility.
            Despite the grave nature of the short story, Poe offers an interesting source of relief from the narrator’s overbearing psychological condition. While upon a ship, he falls asleep in a small wooden area beneath the ship and dreams that he has been buried alive only to awaken with an epiphany:      
“There arrived an epoch -- as often before there had arrived -- in which I found myself emerging from total unconsciousness into the first feeble and indefinite sense of existence. Slowly -- with a tortoise gradation -- approached the faint gray dawn of the psychal day. A torpid uneasiness. An apathetic endurance of dull pain. No care -- no hope -- no effort. Then, after a long interval, a ringing in the ears; then, after a lapse still longer, a prickling or tingling sensation in the extremities; then a seemingly eternal period of pleasurable quiescence, during which the awakening feelings are struggling into thought; then a brief re-sinking into non-entity; then a sudden recover. (“The Premature Burial”)”
He realizes through somewhat of a near death experience that he has become a victim of catalepsy, and through this realization he is able to overcome his crippling fear. It is important to mention that there is no divine intervention or outside therapy that advocates this realization, but rather, it occurs through a true experience. Astoundingly, Poe references psycho-therapy concepts introduced by Sigmund Freud, who was not even alive during the time of the story’s publication, that suggest one may overcome fear by facing fear itself, which in this case, is death. This empowerment of the self is a refreshing aspect of early American literature and an important representation of dark romantics such as Edgar Allan Poe.
            The canon of American literature honors works which exemplify major themes within a time period, and Poe’s “The Premature Burial” should absolutely be part of this collection. His diligent approach to writing, where the reader’s interests are the main focus of his message, is a creative and refreshing reminder of the power of fiction. Additionally, Poe’s allusion to the power of the self in overcoming fears as crippling as death is well ahead of the time period. The story works on so many levels: as a horror story, a satire, and even a psychological analogy.   Therefore, it is important that scholars recognize these attributions, and never forget the power of social taboo’s and their effect not only on literature, but the psychological consequences that arise from them.

Works Cited

Moorshead Magazines, Limited. "Buried Alive! Premature Burials." History Magazine 11.5          (2010): 9-11. History Reference Center. 19 Nov. 2012

Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Premature Burial." Works of Edgar Allan Poe -- Volume 2. 101-110.         n.p.: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 2006. Literary Reference Center.             20 Nov. 2012.

Wójcicka, Natalia. "The Living Dead: The Uncanny And Nineteenth-Century Moral Panic Over  
Premature Burial." Styles Of Communication 2010.2 (2010): 176-186. Communication &
Mass Media Complete. 19 Nov. 2012

Zimmerman, Brett. "Poe As Amateur Psychologist: Flooding, Phobias, Psychosomatics, and The                         Premature Burial'." Edgar Allan Poe Review 10.1 (2009): 7-19. 19 Nov. 2012.