The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
In The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe we have the theme of art, reality, creativity, selfishness and obsession. Taken from his Poetry and Tales collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realizes that Poe may be exploring the theme of reality. The husband does not see that his wife is a real person. He is so obsessed with capturing her beauty in the painting that she forgets that she is human. His art is more important to him than his love for his wife. Yes he loves her but only in painting form. He has a strong desire to capture her beauty without thinking about how his wife may feel. In reality the husband is acting selfishly and for his art only.
The man who is staying in the room knows that the woman has been captured beautifully but there is something about the painting that unnerves him. Something that is clear to the man when he reads the foreword to the painting. If anything there is a fine line between reality and art and the painter has crossed the line in his desperation to do the best job that he can. A job that will justify the beauty of his wife. However it is a costly affair as the wife dies in silence. Such is her love for her husband and his work. In reality the husband’s narrow-minded has led to his wife’s death. At no stage of the story does he take her or her tiredness into consideration. The painting is utmost in his mind. Though some critics might suggest that the man has been dedicated to his work and he simply forgets to inquire how his wife is feeling. Which again suggests that the man has acted selfishly. It is as though his pride and joy (the painting) replaces his wife.
Some critics might also suggest that the story is a warning to those who replace reality with art and the fact that reality is more important. Reality is living until it becomes too serious as is the case with the wife. It may also be a case that with creativity comes a cost and the wife has paid with her life. In order for the husband to paint to the best of his ability and show just how beautiful his wife is. However the painting is so real like that it is the only painting in the room that catches the man’s eye. It really is a thing of beauty but it has had its cost the wife’s life. A cost that feels somewhat extreme even if others admire the painting.
The really interesting thing about the story is the fact that Poe grips the man and the reader until the very end of the story. Until we read the last few paragraphs of the story we do not really know what happened. If anything Poe manages to heighten the suspense until the end of the story. Then it occurs to us that the husband has been obsessive about the painting and again he is prepared to lose his wife for the sake of art. Something that very few people will understand. For the husband it is all very normal because he believes a he has caught his wife’s beauty. However for the patient wife, who is in love with her husband, it has been a costly affair with her losing her life.