The Gold Bug

by Arthur Paul Patterson

Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug emphasizes the chasm between our perceptions and reality. Poe's ghoulish tone is not merely horror for the "gross out", as Stephen King calls it. The gothic elements in Poe serve the higher purpose of transforming our consciousness. One of the tell-tale signs of a Poe story is that truth is not easily accessible. When we confront reality it does not conform to our expectations. A metamorphosis, in the normal way of seeing things, takes place when we learn to question not only our general perceptions of subject but our own cherished convictions. Poe's horror supplies a tool for transformation.

At first it may seem cynical, or cruel to laugh at the dim-wittedness of ourselves and others. Poe's use of irony and humor is intended to create a disinterested or objective stance toward subjectively experienced events. His tales are like horrific versions of Zen koans, whose role is to merely to shake us loose from habitual ruts in our thinking. This strategy was rarely understood or appreciated by Poe's publishers.

Poe often asked the reader/publisher to assume a context in which the tales would be read. It is significant that a reading group in some ways fits the bill for Poe's hypothetical gathering of readers.
"[The Tales] are supposed to be read at table by the eleven members of a literary club, and are followed by the remarks of the company upon each. These remarks are intended as a burlesque upon criticism." The name of Poe's imagined Reading Group was The Folio Club - a subversive, counter-cultural group of literary transcendentalists whose intention was to "abolish Literature, subvert the Press, and overturn the Government of Nouns and Pronouns." (Thompson, p. 41)

It is in this spirit that we approach
The Gold Bug.

A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM
by Edgar Allan Poe
(1827)

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow-

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it, therefore, the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand-

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep- while I weep!

 

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream

 

O God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?


A Dream Within A Dream (instrumental)
Alan Parson's Band Instrumental


"For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it. There is, however, a class of fancies of exquisite delicacy which are not thoughts, and to which as yet I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt to language. These fancies arise in the soul, alas how rarely. Only at epochs of most intense tranquility, when the bodily and mental health are in perfection. And at those weird points of time, where the confines of the waking world blend with the world of dreams. And so, I captured this fancy, where all that we see, or seem, is but a dream within a dream."

NEXT: The Historical Context

Back to Poe Essays

Watershed Home Page | Personal Essays | Frankenstein | Emerson | Folio Club
Tarot | Mystics | Mythic Movies | Odd Job Squad | WaterPeople
Watershed Online
Resources for a Literary Imagination