Thursday, September 2, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Man of the Crowd"

Questions to consider:

--What makes the "man of the crowd" so disturbing, so evil, to the narrator?
--What are some of the things that characterize the city here?
--What kind of space is the city here?
--How would you compare it to the spaces or places of New England that we have studied so far?

Here's a link to the text:


  1. - I think the man of the crowd is so disturbing and evil to the narrator because he cannot readily discern his motive or agenda for constantly needing to be in the company of people. As the observer watches the crowded street in front of the "D- Hotel", he is able to decipher the occupations and agendas of the various types of people - the prostitutes, bankers, clerks, beggars, drunks, etc., are all obvious in their intents and their reasons for being out in the social world. The man in the crowd has no desire other than to constantly be surrounded by a crowd, and therefore the narrator decides there must be something disturbing about his person and his motives because he is so focused on the means (walking through a crowd) with no end (destination). It's interesting to note, though, that of all the people described in the story, its the man of the crowd that can be totally trusted not to harm or interfere with any other people, because he just doesn't stop walking.
    -The city is characterized by the different sections of commercial and public land. The gas lamps lighting up the upscale, business district located near the "D- Hotel" and the throng of citizens going about their business in the evening characterizes a place in which all people, from rich bankers to child prostitutes, can rub elbows as they make their way through their respective days, in pursuit of money, companionship, or the fulfillment of desire. It's interesting to note the contrast of the brilliantly lit town square outside of the hotel to the dark, "worm-eaten" tenements of the slum to which the narrator follows the man of the crowd. The poor section of town is described in dark, grimy, foreboding tones, with the native darkness of the poverty-stricken neighborhoods acting as a natural camouflage for all the illicit and immoral things transpiring within its grouinds.

  2. -What makes the "man of the crowd" so disturbing, so evil, to the narrator?
    I agree with the first post in saying the "man of the crowd" frightens the narrator so much because the narrator can't figure out who exactly this person is. What class of people he belongs to, what he wants from this social atmosphere, why he is wandering the streets?

    However in going further to explain why "the man of the crowd" frightens the narrator, I instantly thought of the idea that "the man of the crowd" is a ghost. Perhaps, the narrator believes he is looking at a ghost? "I grew wearied unto death, and, stopping fully in front of the wanderer, gazed at him steadfastly in the face. He noticed me not, but resumed his solemn walk," is the passage which made me think of this idea. The narrator stops trying to be sneaky and stealth in following the man, and yet the man still fails to notice his presence, fails to stop and acknowledge him.

    -In comparing this space and place described by Poe to that of New England which we have studied, its certainly darker. Although going beyond that, it's mysterious. First in noticing the different social classes and how different they truly are, but then continuing on to the focus of "the man of the crowd." It's a mystery as to what he's after, or who he is exactly.

  3. After reading a lot of Poe's work (especially the Purloined Letter), I've come to read between the lines and scrutinize Poe's work closely. I found several images throughout the short story that were fascinating. While the narrator was commenting on the passing crowd, I thought it was interesting that he was looking through a "smoky glass". It's hard to discern if Poe was just simply describing the scene or if he was giving clues into the narrator's state of mind. The description that follows from the narrator is deeply disturbing. So disturbing in fact, that I thought it was bordering on satirical. Poe follows a similar structure in describing scene that is use by Whittier, Whitman and many other writers of the time, but instead of a positive outlook, Poe gives us the bleakest picture imaginable. I thought these two descriptions of place/space through a positive and negative lens was really interesting to compare and contrast.

    I believe that "the man in the crowd" is more than just a character continuously walking around London. I thought the old man was actually a part of the narrator's conscience or mind. The narrator seems comfortable being able to define others but when faced with his uncontrollable need to be amongst others he becomes perplexed. The main conflict in the story is the idea of isolation vs. society. Many members of the crowd at the beginning of the story are described as "if feeling in solitude on account of the very denseness of the company around." Also, the old man travels around to various places that are filled with people. I thought this was perhaps the narrator's own yearning to "The man in the crowd" instead of an outcast, surveying others thought smoky glass.

    To take this story at face value as just a description of London and leaving it at that does not do justice to Poe's narrative genius. His ability to weave character and setting helps Poe tackle such large themes in such a short work.

  4. What makes the "man of the crowd" so disturbing, so evil, to the narrator?
    I do believe that the first post is pretty spot on about what is disturbing to the narrator, but I think that there is one more thing that is plaguing the narrator as well. The narrator is a man who enjoys the observation of order. He is a ‘people watcher’. He enjoys learning and admiring the facets of how man functions. The problem he faces now is a person who he cannot distinguish as a member of any specific category. Is he a banker? A thief? A plumber? Who knows? All he is able to understand for this scene is that this person is inserting himself into society without being aware of his exact role. He seems to be immersing himself in with the contributors to society without having a role to play himself. Why this suddenly becomes so haunting to the reader is because he finds himself in the same position as the mystery man. He is not playing a certain function as he sits and stares at the hustle and bustle of the outside world. He is just as much of an uninvited guest into the commotion of the lawyers and street market vendors as the man of the crowd. He sees the man as evil because he ignores the narrator and refuses to go out into the world anymore than to just enjoy the livelihood of the street, however that is all the narrator is doing himself. He is not going anywhere or striking up any meaningful conversation about politics or articles in the paper. He is hiding himself away by his window observing. The narrator identifies himself with the man of the crowd, and man he despises.

  5. --What makes the "man of the crowd" so disturbing, so evil, to the narrator?
    -- I think the mystery of the man of the crowd makes him so disturbing and evil to the narrator. When I first read this story though, I felt bad for the man and I thought the narrator was the disturbing evil one. I thought of the man as lonely and obviously mentally unstable and I believed that the narrator was taking advantage of this by following the man around for his own personal enjoyment and satisfaction. It is very sad to me that he feels this need to be around a crowd at all times because he is scared to be alone. While his behavior is disturbing to the narrator, I would not necessarily say that it is evil. He is not doing anything criminal or bothering anyone. He just likes to be part of the crowd and doesn't want to be alone. But when we talked about it more detail in class, we touched on the point that maybe he did something so horrible that he is scared to be alone because then he would have to deal with his own terrifying thoughts. When I thought about this point of view, I agreed more with the narrator seeing the man as evil and did not feel sorry for him anymore.

  6. What makes the "man of the crowd" so disturbing, so evil, to the narrator?

    There are some mysterious and alluring elements that attract the narrator to the man in the crowd. When the narrator spots the man he becomes bewildered by the "expression I had never seen before", and continues on to decribe his feelings of "confusedly and paradoxically ", "excessive terror", "supreme despair" etc. The narrator's attention is caught because he is struck by something unknown to him. This unknown is particularly evil to him because he sees himself as a keen observer. We can tell from the earlier descriptions of passer by's that the narrator takes pride in his ability to know the stories of the strangers that pass by through their actions and dress, and because he cannot tell the story of this man in the crowd by his observations he is intrigued, frightened.

    The narrator may see the the man in the crowd as a threat because in someway the man in the crowd is like the narrator. It is conclusive at the end of the story that the man in the crowd simply does not like being alone, however it is the narrator who spends his entire day observing the crowd in a manner that makes him seem as though he is a part of their lives, he knows their stories, even if they do not know him. The man in the crowd is seen as a double threat because the narrator sees parts of himself in the oddities of the man in the crowd.

  7. I believe that the man in the crowd is seen as disturbing to the narrator because he is very similar. The man is disconnected physically from everyone around him, having no connections with other people. and the narrator is the same way. Both are being loners in a social situation. The man is wandering around, seemingly without purpose, and yet the narrator is following the man, seemingly without purpose. The thing that is most frightening to the narrator is that they are so alike. He can not figure out the secrets of the man, and maybe he does not know his own.

    The idea that the man has done something so horrible that he can not face it, is not true I do not believe. I believe that the narrator is the one with something hidden. The man in the crowd is essentially his own reflection in a way. He can not look at himself and see what is there, so he sees it in a man on the street. It seems like a hint at the difficulty we all have of looking in to our own person and finding the flaws, but it is easy for us to find the flaws in others, or to try at least.

  8. the Man in the Crowd is certainly weird, there's no two ways about that. In a way, I think that having the man in the crowd be mysterious is beneficial. I think that it the man in the crowd mimics the city itself.

    The city is dark, cold and fast paced, much unlike the small and quaint and slow moving New England towns we have read about before. For the narrator, the man in the crowd is all the qualities of the city personified.

    In this story the city is not a warm place, it is not a place that anyone would really want to spend any time. I love the city, but I live fast paced and grew up in an urban environment. I think it is fair to say that Poe did not share similar feelings. For him, it seems, the city is merely a large metro station, a bypass for people going from one place to another. Everyone is there, but no one wants to be there. Everyone, in a way, is uneasy.

    Perhaps the uneasiness of the city for the narrator is projected onto the man he notices, the man in the crowd, who's tendencies are, we can all admit, a bit off.

  9. My friends and I are not actually too different from this narrator. We are not quite as creepy and we don't get up and follow anyone, especially not for 24 hours, but we do enjoy sitting to the side of Lowry Mall and participating in what we like to call "people watching." Its very interesting when we step to the side, out of the current, and just observe student's different quirks, the way they interact in the rush, and how robotic they can become. We can point out all the roles just like the narrator can and I don't blame him one bit for finding interest in this observance.

    I believe that what the narrator finds evil about this man is directly related to his curiosity. He, so far, has been able to point out the different roles of every person he has observed and now the fear of the unknown triggers his senses and makes him see a disturbance in this man.

    This city is stuck in a rut. Everyone has their roles: prostitute, thieve, beggar, banker. However, none of the people seem to possess any sort of purpose. They all are just in a rush to fulfill the roles that they have no clue why they are fulfilling them, nor do they have time or conscience to figure that out.

    I like to think that the narrator isn't actually sitting to the side and observing. I think that he is actually in the crowd pointing out the fact that everyone is stuck in a current until he sees himself in a mirror and is struck by fear because he doesn't know his purpose. He is the man he is following. He isn't actually following the man, but is trying to find his purpose and in the end is forced into the realization that he, like everyone else is part of the current. He has a role but no purpose.

    This is great to relate back to my enjoyment in "people watching" because when we step out of the current and watch from the side we are forced to start thinking about the purpose of the role we play and whether or not we are simply part of the current.


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