Thirty-Two Stories

By Edgar Allan Poe; Stuart Levine et al. | Go to book overview

HOP-FROG

Given what we now know about Poe's dependence upon his sources for story ideas and details, it is perilous to attach strong psychological significance to his subject matter. That is especially true in this story: Poe scholars know exactly where Poe's ideas came from--see "A note of explanation," below. Moreover, "Hop-Frog" was produced at a time when he was very "commercial-minded, writing cheery notes to friends about how much material he was selling and how well he knew the market for prose.

To the critics who read Poe into Hop-Frog, Poe is rationalizing his own difficulties with alcohol by claiming, through the story, that people "force" drinks upon him. Certainly his use of one of his own failings does suggest involvement. So does the fact that the sensitive cripple is in a way an "artist, dragged from his provincial homeland (the South?) to entertain the fatheads, the men "in need of characters," who rule the land, in return for crumbs from their table. Hop-Frog's description of the "diversion" as a "country frolic" is also suggestive: it is, in fact, a tarring and feathering with flax substituted for feathers because flax burns better. Poe might be saying, "There is a well- known rural remedy for this sort of thing." Hop-Frog's strange tranquility after drinking and seeing Trippetta insulted may be another clue; it puts one in mind of another character critics have taken for a "Poe-mask," the dull- mannered, "inscrutable" aristocrat Ritzner Von Jung in the story "Mystification" (see Levine 4). There is wine-throwing in that tale, too. If his mention of liquor, in other words, suggests that Poe is feeling sorry for himself, and his presentation of the dwarf as a mistreated artist suggests a complaint about the status of the artist in society, then the dwarf's capacity for love and vengeance is an assertion of the artist's human dignity and manliness. But why, then, is the vengeance so hideous? Probably because Poe believed that every tale should create a strong effect, often bizarre, grotesque, outré.

Note the ending of the tale. Trippetta and Hop-Frog "live happily ever after." Poe seems to have a fairy-tale effect in mind. He is extremely vague about date, as though he wanted this kingdom to be some timeless never-never land. The narrator speaks of a time when jesters were still common (implying "a long time ago"), but also of "great continental 'powers,'" a relatively modern development. He says that he was present when the events of the story occurred, implying the relatively recent past, yet that orangutans were hardly known in the civilized world, implying a date at least before the age of exploration. Since Poe intends for his story to have some of the qualities of a folk tale or even a parable, this ambiguity seems deliberate. Note also the paucity of foreign phrases, quotations, or explicit literary references; Poe seems concerned more than usual with keeping things simple. The periodical in which his tale was to appear might have influenced his decision (see note 1).

A note of explanation:Evert A. Duyckinck wrote a piece called "Barbarities of the Theater" for The Broadway Journal in the month

-361-

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