Poe's Sea Tales and Economic Man: Decision Making in “MS Found in a Bottle” and “A Descent into the Maelström”


Correspondence: Department of English Language and Literature, 224 Waterloo Road, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University. Email: wingki@hkbu.edu.hk


This essay highlights the economic, rather than the more traditional analyses of Poe's sea tales. The first section focuses on Poe's interest in sea journeys against the background of maritime exploration in antebellum America. I then discuss Poe's ambivalence toward the “horrid laws of political economy.” Poe's heroes react to the changing sea through the prism of economic benefit. From capital maximization to optimal satisficing, regret aversion, and risk tolerance, Poe goes beyond the nineteenth century notion of economic men and prompts his readers to see that rational agents can often be rational fools.