The Imp of the Perverse | Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe

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The Imp of the Perverse | Quotes


In the consideration of the faculties and impulses ... the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which ... has been equally overlooked by ... moralists.

The narrator

The opening line is a simple and concise statement that outlines the reason for writing the short story. The narrator identifies the failings of the phrenologists and moralists of the time. Both of these positions are highly regarded but each has fallen short in its attempts to study the impulses many people experience. The narrator both builds his case and discredits the authorities to add more credence to the argument that follows.


It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori.

The narrator

The narrator furthers his argument against the prevailing branches of science, one of which is phrenology. Phrenology believed that the geography of a person's skull could be mapped and help determine their personality and mental abilities. In phrenology and many other areas theories have been created and accepted without experience of the phenomena or concepts. This explains why "perverseness" is still widely unrecognized. It also lends more authority and credit to the narrator who will later outline his own experience with "perverseness."


Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or ... through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not.

The narrator

Philosophers and scholars have argued that humans act on feelings or thoughts because it brings them some positive change or addition. Here is the trouble with "perverseness." This impulse causes and even demands an action for no reason other than an individual's desire. In most instances the "perverseness" causes a person to do something that person knows they should not, simply to indulge the feeling. The narrator thus sets up his own personal experience with "perverseness."


It is a radical, a primitive impulse-elementary.

The narrator

The narrator's statement helps solidify the idea that this impulse of "perverseness" is a natural feeling in humans. It is a natural, shared experience that the narrator argues needs to be better understood and studied. The "perverseness" has been left unchecked, allowed to control and ruin many lives because of the lack of awareness surrounding "perverseness" in both scientific and nonexpert circles.


The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing ... is indulged.

The narrator

In a single sentence the narrator explains the progression of "perverseness." The victim feels the first inklings of a desire which progresses to a deep need to act on those feelings. The feelings and progression are uncontrollable and unrelenting in persistence. This explanation and the descriptions that follow come well before the reader is made aware of the narrator's murderous actions, and this makes it a haunting and worrying section.


There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle.

The narrator

The narrator provides a tangible, relatable example of "perverseness." Many victims have felt the pull of procrastination, but this pull is simply "perverseness" at work. This is evidenced by the lack of comprehension and understanding about why someone would willingly and knowingly put off doing something necessary or desired. In these instances humans actually identify "the perverse" without understanding the ramifications or seriousness of the impulse.


There is no passion in nature so demonically impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge.

The narrator

The narrator uses the analogy of jumping off a cliff to further explain the effects and power of "perverseness." As illustrated by the edge of a cliff, the victim of "perverseness" shudders under the temptation to act on impulse, regardless of how dark and twisted the impulse may be. This individual feels cut off from reason or even reality, left with only one choice to give in to the temptation and jump.


Examine these similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse.

The narrator

The narrator now begins the transition into his own personal struggle with "perverseness." After detailing the scientific and psychological traits of this impulse, the narrator concludes that all actions like the ones discussed point to the "perverse." This statement sets the stage for a discussion of the narrator's personal experience. This discussion, too, can be seen as shared between reader and narrator because of the narrative technique Poe utilizes.


Had I not been thus prolix, you might either have misunderstood me altogether, or, with the rabble, have fancied me mad.

The narrator

This confession by the narrator is impeccably timed. After a deep and scientific discussion of the "perverseness" phenomena, the narrator explains that he is a convicted murderer being held in prison. This small detail was left unmentioned until this point to keep the reader from assuming the narrator is crazy. It is an attempt to connect with the reader and develop an understanding of the "perverseness" impulse before revealing the narrator's more personal motivations.


The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the Coroner's verdict was—'Death by the visitation of God'.

The narrator

The coroner's assessment is proof that the narrator successfully committed his crime. Such a verdict would lead to a closed case that needed no investigation and no murderer. At this point the narrator can rest easy in his success and enjoy his ill-gotten gains without anxiety or worry.


But there arrived at length an epoch, from which the pleasurable feeling grew, by scarcely perceptible gradations, into a haunting and harassing thought.

The narrator

The narrator begins to identify the "perverseness" in himself. It was not the act of murder or the enjoyment of the riches and lifestyle brought about by the unholy deed that caused discomfort or worry. It was the repeated and persistent thoughts the "perverse" used to get at the narrator. These thoughts began years after the murder as a rather slow and methodical process that has grown stronger and stronger.


My own casual self-suggestion that I might possibly be fool enough to confess the murder ... confronted me ... and beckoned me on to death.

The narrator

This statement is the narrator's first encounter with the "perverse." The narrator feels the first inklings of temptation, the first thoughts of confessing to a murder in which he was never a suspect. This temptation goes against the self-preservation innate to humans and leads the narrator to certain death.


I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then some invisible fiend, ... struck me with his broad palm.

The narrator

As the story nears its end the narrator is physically trapped by the "perverse." While the narrator has described the mental attacks of this temptation, by the climax he is unable to push aside the more physical attacks. The narrator outlines the feeling of a physical attack that suffocates any attempts to resist again. The very physical strike on the back is the final catalyst that leads the narrator to audibly and publicly confess to the murder. The "perverse" is inescapable in this moment, and the narrator now faces the consequences.


Having related all that was necessary for the fullest judicial conviction, I fell prostrate in a swoon.

The narrator

The narrator perfectly illustrates the aftermath of the "imp of the perverse." He has been tormented mentally and physically by the imp, but the impulse and feeling of torment leave immediately after his confession. In fact, the narrator is left completely helpless and falls to the ground defeated and empty.


To-day I wear these chains, and am here! To-morrow I shall be fetterless!—but where?

The narrator

As the narrator ends his story he develops a feeling of impending freedom. He knows he will be beyond restriction tomorrow even though he is currently bound with chains in a jail cell. The "perverse" will be unable to trick or influence him again and few worries exist beyond that notion. However, the last question does present a sense of the unknown. This question looks toward the unknown of the afterlife and brings the story full circle by referring to another experience that is often discussed without prior experience.

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