The Inescapable Id in “The Man of the Crowd”
There is pretty much is no question that a psychological thriller is a thousand times scarier than a horror movie filled with jump scares. The reason being thinking about our minds is scary because we all have one. Jump scares are an instant scare but psychological thrillers involve this process of creating a more or less “real” situation that technically could happen in our everyday lives. The chance of a clown being under a sewer is less likely to happen than a serial killer stalking you.
Edgar Allan Poe is known for his twisted, psychologically challenging short stories that are so incredibly up to interpretation it is scary to think of all the possibilities one of his stories can hold. In “The Man of The Crowd” by Edgar Allan Poe, the narrator is stalking a very weird old man for many hours and just observing this mans’ every move. The narrator describes the man as:
“He was short in stature, very thin, and apparently very feeble. His clothes, generally, were filthy and ragged; but as he came, now and then, within the strong glare of a lamp, I perceived that his linen, although dirty, was of beautiful texture; and my vision deceived me, or, through a rent in a closely-buttoned, and evidently second-handed roquelaire which enveloped him, I caught a glimpse either of a diamond, or of a dagger”“The Man of The Crowd” Edgar Allan Poe
There seems to be nothing super attractive about this man that would warrant someone following him for many hours. He seems like a pretty grungy guy that would blend in especially in a large crowd such as the one the narrator was a part of. He seems a little out of control and careless but can still blend in with a crowd. This description is necessary because that is how we are getting to know the narrator. We are getting to know the narrator through his actions and thoughts toward another character. Perspective is really challenged in this sense because the reader is watching a man thinking about and observing another man. So who is really being observed and judged?
After following this man all night, the story ends on:
“This old man,” I said at length, “is the type and the genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd. It will be in vain to follow; for I shall learn no more of him, nor of his deeds. The worst heart of the world is a grosser book than the ‘Hortulus Animæ,’ and perhaps it is but one of the great mercies of God that ‘er lasst sich nicht lesen.”“The Man of The Crowd” Edgar Allan Poe
Up until the very end with these lines, the entire plot of the story is the narrator watching this every man’s move and judging him as if he is trying to put puzzle pieces together about someone he knows literally nothing about. However, the puzzle pieces the narrator has been trying to put together finally fit together at the end because it is not about someone else it is about you. The reader is both the narrator and the old man. Going off of Freudian concepts, the old man represents your subconscious and the narrator is your ego. Freud uses the term “id” as your basic subconscious desires, all of the instant gratification and pleasure-seeking things fall in that category. Your id is dangerous when it is not working with your ego. Your ego and superego help keep your id in check. The narrator seems to be keeping the old man in check. Although the narrator convinces the reader that he doesn’t think the old man knows he is being followed, we don’t actually get to see inside of his mind so the narrator is unreliable in this sense. The old man goes into the stores right before they close and acts like he is going to steal something but doesn’t, how can that be? The id and the ego are working together here, the ego keeping the id from doing something against the moral good. The id wins in the end though because he ends up at the bar and the ego is finally done following him.
It is scary to think of what our minds would actually do if we were all solely just id and gave into all of our pleasures. The old man represents the part of you that “is genius of deep crime” so whether or not you think of it, that part of your mind does exist, and when unleashed and not paired with your ego and superego can be very dangerous. The narrator doesn’t want to “learn no more of him, nor of his deeds” because what he does not know about him will not hurt him.
We all have a weird and grungy old man within us no matter how hard we try and hide it, and that is scarier than any horror movie ever made.