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An interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Shadow

Updated on December 7, 2011

Didn't understand The Shadow?

After reading The Shadow and doing some research I've come up the following as my opinion as to what Edgar Allan Poe was trying to tell us in his parable The Shadow.

Poe’s story, “The Shadow - A Parable“, is a parable that uses mythology and many Biblical elements to convey the emotions and uncertainty of the death and judgment of oneself and one‘s friends.

The story is written from the viewpoint of the main character Oinos. In the beginning of the story after Oinos’ greetings he tells the reader that “The year had been a year of terror, and of feelings more intense than terror for which there is no name upon the earth. For many prodigies and signs had taken place…” and that “the planet Jupiter is conjoined with the red ring of the terrible Saturnus.”

Saturn, “Saturnus” in Latin, was the Roman god of harvest and agriculture. He was one of the seven Titans, a Titan being the most supreme of beings in essence a “prodigy”. Saturn over through his father and it was prophesied or a “sign” was given that one of his children would someday over throw him. To prevent this he devoured his children one by one but his wife managed to hide one of his son, “Jupiter“, who fulfilled the prophecy. Jupiter’s epic battle to over throw his father nearly destroyed the universe. This epic god battle alludes to the book of Revelation where God and Satan will have their last battle and destroy the earth. For mankind this will also be a time of terror, death, and judgment.

Oinos goes on to say that while these events took place he and seven living companions sat in a noble hall in the city Ptolemais and they were “to die.”. But there was one other in the room already deceased, Zoilus. In Grecian history Zoilus was a critic and one account states he was killed for his criticisms because they were directed at king Ptolemy Philadelphus. The Zoilus in Poe’s story, even though dead, had his critical eyes upon Oinos and they expressed bitterness.

Oinos said a dead weight hung on them, the room and the goblets. He also described the kind of depression and anxiety that is brought on by fear of impending death and judgment. The only thing the heaviness did not affect were seven lamps which provided their only light. These seven lamps are like the seven lamp stands in Revelation which belonged to the seven churches and if the churches did not turn from their sins judgment would come and their lamp would be put out.

This noble hall also contained a round table of ebony. The table was round so all seated would be equal no one could be the head. Oinos and the seven had not faced there judgment yet so there placement in eternity was not yet determined they at this point were equal. The table also was made of ebony. The story says that the light of the seven lamps caused the ebony to reflect like a mirror. The companions could not tare their eyes away from their reflections. They were peering into their souls seeing their lives reflected back at them in a mirror of ebony just like the Bible reflects our lives back to us, like a mirror, judging our actions.

The noble hall only contained one entrance, a door of rare workmanship, made of brass and fastened from the inside. In the Bible oftentimes alters were made of bronze and an alter is correlated with judgment. He also said the door was rare and was fastened from the inside. If a door is fastened from the inside the only way in is to be granted admittance from those on the inside. This door reflects the Gates of Heaven, where judgment takes place, the Gates of Heaven are the rarest of all doors there is no other like them and they can only be opened from the inside.

Finally the hall had black draperies which kept the companions from viewing the outside world. These black draperies represent there impending death which will permanently separate them from the world of the living. It is from these draperies, a symbol of death itself, that the Shadow emerges. The Shadow was the embodiment of departed souls these souls did not get to enter into there final resting place they were left to dwell as stated by the shadow “near to the Catacombs of Ptolemais, and hard by those dim plains of Helusion which border upon the foul Charonian canal.” The Catacombs is where the living put their dead, Helusion was paradise and the Charonian canal is the passage between the two. In Greek mythology Charon is Hades ferryman taking souls to there finial resting place. He traveled on the River Acheron; the divider of the world of the dead and the world of the living. But there was a fee and according to some authors if the fee was not paid or if you were left unburied you had to dwell, for one hundred years, on the shores. Oinos and his companions terror comes to it’s climax when they hear the Shadow speak. This is when they realize the souls of the Shadow are those of their friends for in the Shadow’s voice was “the well-remembered and familiar accents of many thousand departed friends.”.

Poe’s “The Shadow” shows the terror many people have of death and judgment and their gripping fear that one day they’ll come to find that the one’s they loved did not make it to paradise.


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    • profile image

      ??? 3 years ago

      I agree with all the symbols and what everything means, but I see a lot of grammar errors...

    • profile image

      Slave 4 years ago

      Thanks a ton! I had a really hard time trying to understand this one. :\

    • profile image

      jp 7 years ago

      Interesting reading of the story. But if the brass door symbolizes the door to heaven, it seems that it would not be locked on the inside, which would imply that the the seven occupants of the room are already in heaven, and therefore are not awaiting judgement. I would agree with your conclusion about what the story signifies for Poe. In fact, in the Modern Library arrangement of Poe's collected stories, this parable is placed among other works that address eschatology and the relationships of the dead with the living pre- and post-apocalypse.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Interesting view! Great hub! Welcome to the Hub Community! Look forward to reading more....