Thirty-Two Stories

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

MELLONTA TAUTA

A witty story with a number of objectives, "Mellonta Tauta" ridicules contemporary pretensions, national pride, historical accuracy, democracy, and faith in progress. In one sense, "Mellonta Tauta" is a "savage attack . . . upon contemporary civilization, especially as represented by the city and by modern democratic government" (Pollin 10). It is filled with unflattering allusions to 19th-century technology and politics, especially to American government and leaders. In another sense, it is a philosophical tale, in which Poe divides savants into two groups, those who understand the role of the intuitive imagination and those who don't. Pundita, his wacky "antiquarian" of the future, generally botches the names of those Poe doesn't like, but knows how to spell those of the "genuinely great." So in the paragraph marked by note 11, she is correct about Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Jean François Champollion.

Thus it is not accurate to say simply that Poe was hostile to science. He was hostile to grubbing for facts. The great scientists, Poe believed, were also artists and visionaries who used imagination and intuition to perceive the "consistency" of the universal order. Hence even Pundita's society remembers them accurately. In the same passage, Poe drops in a word about cryptography--the deciphering of codes--to help make his point that it takes intuition, not just mere logic, to solve difficult problems. He himself published on cryptography and even offered to decipher samples of difficult codes which readers were urged to send to him.

In a third sense, Poe attacks "progress," though he is not fully consistent. The people of 2848 are our children and share some of our faults. Although Pundita's world has learned to theorize imaginatively, building understanding on a philosophy based on the assumption that the cosmos is unified, there are things wrong with her society: Pundita is ignorant and a snob; historical knowledge remains spectacularly imperfect, and the balloon crashes into the sea.

One could also classify "Mellonta Tauta" as science fiction, for we know Poe's genuine fascination with the possibilities of contemporary technology. If these factors seem somewhat contradictory, well and good: Poe's attitudes are complex, and any system of classifying his tales is somewhat arbitrary.

A note of explanation: Poe uses the future date and the science fiction to make his satire possible, but his interest in technology was genuine. He did not believe it would improve human nature, but it did catch his imagination; other stories involve flights across the ocean and a moon-shot. One wonders, incidentally, where Pundita and her fellow passengers are going. A month-long trip at 100 miles per hour would take one at least 72,000 miles, too far for a trip on earth, and not far enough for the space travel she mentions later.

-346-

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Thirty-Two Stories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Metzengerstein 1
  • The Duc de L'Omelette 9
  • Ms. Found in a Bottle 16
  • The Assignation 26
  • Shadow 42
  • Silence 48
  • Ligeia 54
  • How to Write a Blackwood Article 68
  • The Fall of the House of Usher 87
  • William Wilson 104
  • The Man of the Crowd 120
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue 130
  • A Descent into the Maelström 159
  • Eleonora 174
  • The Masque of the Red Death 181
  • The Pit and the Pendulum 188
  • The Domain of Arnheim 200
  • The Tell-Tale Heart 216
  • The Gold-Bug 221
  • The Black Cat 248
  • The Purloined Letter 256
  • The Balloon-Hoax 272
  • The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. 284
  • Some Words with a Mummy 303
  • The Power of Words 318
  • The Imp of the Perverse 323
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar 329
  • The Cask of Amontillado 339
  • Mellonta Tauta 346
  • Hop-Frog 361
  • Von Kempelen and His Discovery 370
  • Bibliography 379
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