Critical Survey: “The Man That Was Used Up”
Some villains broke into a counting-house, in Glasgow. Fortunately for them they were scared. The owner has since posted the following note on his door, and different public places — “Loaded spring-guns set in — ’s counting-house. If any dare break into it, let them bring their coffins.”
The Captain Mann to whom Poe refers in The Man That Was Used Up was, we may be reasonably sure, Captain Daniel Mann, who was a party to the famous conspiracy of which Thomas W. Dyott was the leader. The trial of Captain Mann's case began in March, 1839, and continued through August, 1839, in which month The Man That Was Used Up was first published. The Philadelphia Public Ledger refers to the trial almost daily for several months. In the issue for June 3, 1839, the statement is made that ‘The interest taken in the trial by the public has never flagged.’ The trial had not ended when The Man That Was Used Up appeared. (77)
In his statement in The Man That Was Used Up that "Thomas is decidedly the best hand at a cork leg," Poe probably refers to John F. Thomas of Philadelphia, whose advertisements appeared in numerous issues of the Philadelphia Public Ledger for 1839, the year in which The Man That Was Used Up first appeared. I quote from the issue of April 17, 1839:
CORK LEGS, HANDS, ARMS, ETC.- ]OHN F. THOMAS, No. 79 Race Street (below
Third), Philadelphia, informs the afflicted and the public in general, that he continues to manufacture
On a plan the most correct and complicated — having through necessity invented, made and worn an Artificial Leg for 35 years, and been a manufacturer in New York for 20 years, feels confident of giving satisfaction to all who call on him for LEGS, ARMS, HANDS, or the COMMON WOODEN LEG. All letters for advice must be postpaid. (78)
Marchand, Ernest. “Poe as Social Critic,“ American Literature, March 1934, vol. 6, no. 1: 28-43.
In his reviews of their works, Poe was generally very gracious to lady littérateurs, yet he held bluestockings in contempt. In the farcical ‘The Man That Was Used Up,’ the narrator attends the rout of ‘that bewitching little angel, the graceful Mrs. Pirouette,’ in search of information about the Brevet Brigadier General A. B. C. Smith, empty fraud and prophet of progress. After a nonsensical dispute with Miss Bas-Bleu he makes his retreat ‘in a very bitter spirit of animosity against the whole race of the Bas-Bleus.’ (36)
His scorn for Democracy and his fear of it are the same as that excited in the breasts of the propertied classes — North or South — by the Jacksonian incursion. His theory of government as instituted for the protection of property with his easy identification of the interests of property with those of religion and morality is the theory naturally adopted by any economy which feels itself on the defensive, as the South felt itself in the ’30’s and ’40’s. His suspicion of industrialism, in whatever degree it was shaped or intensified by his feelings as an artist, may well have its source in the antipathy of the slave economy toward its Northern rival. The various reform movements of the age, with their open or concealed threat to established institutions, must be suspect to the social order with which he had identified himself intellectually and emotionally from his earliest years. It is thus difficult to avoid seeing in Poe’s hostile criticism of democracy, industrialism, and reform, the influence of that Virginia world of which he is said never to have been aware. (43)
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Foreword Shawn Rosenheim. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1998 [reprint 1941]: 283.
In August, Poe printed for the first time ‘The Man that was Used Up,’ a Grotesque that Poe apparently thought of highly, for he selected it to accompany ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ in 1843 in the first volume of that projected series of his tales. There may be some profound meaning in this satire upon a general who is made up of cork legs, false teeth, and other artificial limbs, but it escapes the present writer.
Wetzel, George. “The Source of Poe’s ‘Man that was Used Up’ [sic],” Notes and Queries, 198 (January 1953): 38.
The story has of course found scant favour with readers and critics; but Poe set some store by it himself, and republished it several times. Probably the author meant to comment on the philosophical idea that the spirit is whole, despite bodily imperfection; and perhaps to suggest that art is sometimes more beautiful than nature.
So far as 1 can learn, no literary source for Poe’s talc has been suggested, although it is now confessed that Poe’s plots were, usually, based on some fact or old story. 1 believe that the source of The Man that was Used Up is to be found in two brief paragraphs in the third chapter oí Le Sage's once celebrated and “popular book called, in English, The Devil upon Two Sticks. The pertinent passages follow (from the demon Asmodeus's account of people he is by magic showing the narrator, Don Zambullo). The omissions are not pertinent. Shoulders and palate do not appear.
“One is a superannuated coquette . . . leaving her hair, eyebrows and teeth on her toilet: the other is an amorous dotard of sixty; ... he has already laid down his eye, false whiskers, and peruke . . . and waits for his man to take off his wooden arm and leg . , . That beautiful young creature ... is eldest sister to the gallant . . . her breasts are artificial.”
Notable mainly for the fact that this is the first attempt at finding a literary source for the story. Wetzel’s re-telling of wedding night revelations of falsity is too general to match specifically, and already a cliché in Le Sage’s time.
If “Poe set some store by [the tale] himself, and republished it several times,” then why did he want this out in the world so badly? Maybe his motivation isn’t merely monetary. Change the assumption: there is something important here that Poe wants to make sure survives. What is it?
Abel, Darrell. “Le Sage's Limping Devil and Mrs. Bullfrog,” Notes & Queries, April 1953, 198:165-166.
Whipple, William. “Poe’s Political Satire,” University of Texas Studies in English, 35 (1956): 81-95.
“... the General was literally shot to pieces and is now a completely artificial man — a "used up" man. ...”
“The story seems of little consequence; yet Poe accorded the tale a value incomprehensible to us. Once we recognize the object of the satire, however, we can understand why Poe valued it so highly, for the satire was aimed at Richard M. Johnson, Vice-President of the United States.“ (91)
Johnson “was wounded in five places; he received three shots in the right thigh and two in the left arm” before felling Tecumseh with one pistol shot. (92 )
Richard Rush describes him as “a man upon crutches; his frame all mutilated; moving with difficulty yet an object of patriotic interest with everybody." (93)
Quotes from a long speech by a delegate Holt of Kentucky at the Democratic national convention reported in Niles Weekly Register [XLVIII (June 6, 1835), 246-247]:
But, sir, his scarred and shattered frame and limping gate would tell you, too, that the story of his life was not confined to a mere recital of household hospitalities or neighborhood charities.... With daring impetuosity he pursued and overtook the enemy — threw himself like a thunder-bolt of war into the thickest of the fight; fought hand to hand and eye to eye with the Briton and his savage myrmydons poured out his blood like water — triumphed and returned loaded with the richest trophies of the campaign. (93)
“When we compare the military career of Vice-President Johnson with Poe's satire we are struck, even at this distance in time, with the obvious similarities: the swamp fight, the prodigies of valor, the shattered body. Any one of these clues was probably sufficient to insure a correct interpretation of the satire...”. (93)
Whipple seeks to position “Used Up” clearly within the realm of political satire, and builds his case upon similar “political” findings in Poe’s previously published tales and the unfulfilled promise of a sinecure.
The protagonist hopes for “definite information" from Theodore Sinivate, but his name is Cockney for insinuate. It is therefore “humorously inappropriate.” [The text reads, “Matters had now assumed a really serious aspect, and I resolved to call at once upon my particular friend, Mr. Theodore Sinivate — for I knew that here at least I should get something like definite information.” (italics mine)] Of course, Mr. Sinivate also uses the word explicitly: “I say, you don’t mean to insinuate now, really, and truly, and conscientiously, that you don’t know all about that affair of Smith’s as well as I do, eh?”
Quotes William E. Burton’s “Some Account of George Cruikshank” (Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, January, 1840): “Vot . . . does this ’ere old covey mean by his sinnervations?” Poe was junior editor when "The Man That Was Used Up” appeared (August, 1839). Burton’s low comic song “The Vorkhouse Boy” was famous at the time, and Cockney dialect was far better known then. Today, “Londoners no longer confuse u, v, and w.”
Mabbott does not speculate on why the narrator’s quest for definite information is countered by a sideways allusion to insinuation. Why does Poe thwart this quest by setting up a somewhat jarring diametric opposition?
Also unanswered is the question of why Poe would use a Cockney term in just one instance here. Would physical proximity to editor Burton necessarily influence Poe in some indeterminate way? Would Poe try on a Cockney accent when Burton was out of earshot? He had a wonderful ear for brogue. What else of Burton’s material might Poe be interested in? Surely Billy would share of himself, and surely Edgar would enquire.
(images of the Cruikshank illustrations praised by Burton)
Purdy, S. B. “Poe and Dostoyevsky,” Studies in Short Fiction, Winter 1967, 4:169-171.
Hatvary, George E. “Introduction,” Edgar Allan Poe's Prose Romances: The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Man That Was Used Up (a photographic facsimile edition), eds. George E. Hatvary and Thomas Ollive Mabbott, New York: St. John's UP, 1968: i-vi.
Remarkably thin and superficial, nearly contemptuous treatment of the tale. “For some reason he called this sketch ‘The Man That Was Used Up: A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign’,” (196) described as “what looks a tedious parody of some unknown subject [Winfield Scott]” (197). “[T]he real identity” of the object of the narrator’s search “... a Brevet-General, was not obscure. (His now-secret identity as recovered to me by Ronald Curran.)” (196)
Hoffman blythely copies and pastes from the Encyclopaedia Britannica to reel off a list of tribes whom the Indian fighter fought: “Winnebagoes, Menominees, Sioux, and Seminoles, lately the protector of the borders of Maine against incursions from New Brunswick” and battles: “at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras-Churubusco, Molina del Rey, and above all Chapultepec ...”. Scott “was the all-admired hero of the day!” (197)
Scott may have “failed to win the presidency .... on the Whig ticket in 1852,” but in 1839 he was “being bruited as a possible president and Whig. And that's what made so trenchant Poe's apostasy from the ranks of the hero's admirers in ‘The Man That Was Used Up.' For Edgar seems to have wondered what, exactly, were the intellectual qualifications of a redoubtable Indian fighter to become a president.“ The Brigadier-General speaks “like this: 'Man alive, how do you do? why, how are ye? very glad to see ye, indeed,' he would begin. From his first words we can infer that the gladhanding politician was a prominent character already in the fifty-eighth year of the Republic.” (197)
Quotes the “parachutes and man-traps” nonsense as Poe demonstrating “Here, in the full vulgarity of his spirit, is the Man of the Hour, the Man of the Nineteenth Century, equally devoted to Progress and the Machine.” The General is the same type as Melville’s Confidence-Man or Lewis’s Babbitt. (197)
But “Edgar’s buffoonery” gets out of hand as Pompey installs the prosthetics one after one, and the wedding night joke (the dissembling bride disassembles) is rerun again. The ending resolves itself by revealing the General to be a “mechanismus, a puppet, himself a product of the very mechanical ingenuity whose mindless praise comprises his only philosophy.” (198)
Thompson, G. R. Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1973.
Pry, Elmer R. '"A Folklore Source for 'The Man That Was Used Up,'" Poe Studies, 8 (1975), 46,
Recounts previous treatments (see above), which either seek to identify “the general’s” counterpart in real life or see the tale “as a more generalized satire on military heroes.”
The only other suggestion for Poe’s immediate source is George Wetzel’s argument that the plot comes from a single paragraph in LeSage’s popular book called, in English, The Devil Upon Two Sticks; the paragraph in question describes a ‘coquette’ with false hair, eyebrows, and teeth; an older man with false whiskers, false eye, a peruke, and a wooden arm and leg; and a younger girl with ‘artificial’ breasts [Wetzel, Notes and Queries, 198 (1953), 38].
Cites “popular American folk traditions about Indians. One such tradition, both oral and written, persisted from the Colonial American period deep into the nineteenth-century era of Western expansion, recounting over and over the duping of ignorant Indians by clever white men.”
Repeats folklorist Richard Dorson’s recounting:
A chronicle of 1675 relates how Captain Mosely with sixty men faced three hundred Indians in battle; the captain plucked off his periwig and tucked it into his breeches, preparatory to fighting, whereupon the red men turned tail and fled, crying out ‘Umh, Umh, me no stay more fight Engismon, Engismon got two head, if me cut off un head he got noder a put on beder as dis.’ This theme persisted across the frontier, and we hear of a Yankee on the western plains, confronted by hostile Indians, pulling out his false teeth and unstrapping his cork leg, then making a move as if to unscrew his head, the while informing the braves he could similarly dismember them; they fled in terror [Dorson, American Folklore (Chicago. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1959), p 21].
Decides that “it is reasonable to conclude that the basic idea for this story might well have been drawn from a contemporary oral — and perhaps unrecorded — folk narrative.”
Weiskel, Thomas. The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976.
Curran, Ronald T. “The Fashionable Thirties: Poe's Satire in ‘The Man That Was Used Up’,” Markham Review, 1978, 8: 14-20.
O’Trump and Pirouette are moves and steps rather than people, and that the society ‘tends to split into numerous parts. Whether at the theater, the card party, or the dancing rout, the people play mechanical parts in the social mechanism’.
In Poe’s ‘unmanly society’ ‘women are the custodians of the social graces [and] men are their willing pupils’ as they attempt social mobility.
Ketterer, David. The Rationale of Deception in Poe. Baton Rogue: Louisiana State UP, 1979.
Alekna, Richard A. “‘The Man That Was Used Up’: Further Notes on Poe's Satirical Targets,” Poe Studies, 1979, vol. 12, no. 2: 36.
Proposed originals for General A. B. C. Smith;
Elmer R. Pry has shown that Poe drew upon a contemporary folktale in "The Man That Was Used Up" ( 1839) ['"A Folklore Source for 'The Man That Was Used Up,'" Poe Studies, 8 (1975), 46], which satirizes the Jacksonian era's veneration of military heroes and of technical progress.
Richard M. Johnson
[William Whipple, "Poe's Political Satire," University of Texas Studies in English, 35 (1956), 81-95]
much-wounded veteran of Indian wars
cited his military achievements in campaigning for Vice President, 1836 and 1840 elections
“Whiggish Poe would choose a Democrat as butt of his satire.”
Ronald Curran and Daniel Hoffman [Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe (New York: Doubleday, 1972), pp. 196-199].
Johnson was a Colonel, Smith essentially honorary rank of Brevet Brigadier General
Scott carried this Brevet rank, which sparked a controversy in the mid-1830's about the abuse of the privileges of his honorary title [Fifty Years' Observations of Men and Events, Civil and Military (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1884), pp. 115-116}.
Both Scott and Smith were popular with the ladies.
Scott was as vain and egotistic as Poe's character.
Cecil D. Eby spoke of Scott's "prissy Mannerisms,'' and George Washington Harris' widely-circulated cartoon caricatured "Old Fuss and Feathers" (Scott) entering a room:
"First a giant plume appeared through the doorway, and far to the rear an immense sword fitted with a small wheel attached to the tip of the scabbard'" ["That Disgraceful Affair," The Black Hawk War (New York: Nonon, 1973), pp. 214, 271n].
Scott's dependence on his black manservant David, a suggestive parallel to Smith's Pompey:
"He [Scott] required to be waited upon, to be observed, and to be attended without intermission, and his body servant was to be always within call. He occasionally excused himself for this last necessity from the fact that his left arm was partially disabled by a terrible wound he received at Lundy's Lane" [pp. 48-49].
"A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign" correlates more closely with Score than Johnson. Scott had extensive experience in Indian warfare during the 1830's and was to have faced the Kickapoo in the Black Hawk War, though the War ended before his arrival.
A. J. S. Smith or William Henry Harrison
1839 Whig National Convention [Robert Gray Gunderson, The Log-Cabin Campaign (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1957), pp. 47-65].
Whipple cites one A. J. S. Smith, a Whig politico, as disparaging Johnson's achievements in the Battle of the Thames ["By a Working Man," More Than 100 Reasons Harrison Should Be Elected (Boston: Tuttle, Dennet and Chisholm, 1840), p. 15. Whipple, p. 93n].
Smith supported Harrison by presenting him emotionally as a military hero, a tactic then common in the Democratic party but frowned upon by conservative Whigs, who favored Clay. Himself sympathetic with the conservatives, Poe may have been lambasting A. J. S. Smith's tactics through A. B. C. Smith's absurdities.
Harrison often remained neutral on controversial issues, an indecisiveness which may have provoked Poe's description of General Smith as a "nondescript" blob.
Lindberg, Gary. The Confidence Man in American Literature (New York: Oxford UP, 1982), 53–54.
Rougé, Bertrand. “La Pratique des corps limites chez Poe: La Verite sur le cas de ‘The Man That Was Used Up,” Poetique, 1984, 15: 473-488.
Citation unavailable. The summary below is condensed from https://www.eapoe.org/pstudies/ps1986/p1987201.htm.
Text: Henri Justin, “Recent Poe Criticism in France: 1983-1987” Source: Poe Studies / Dark Romanticism, December 1987, vol. XX, no. 2, 20:27-35
Death is also central to Bertrand Rouge’s “La Pratique des corps limites chez Poe: La Verite sur le cas de ‘The Man that was Used Up,‘” (“The Practice of Border-case Bodies in Poe — The Facts in the Case of ‘The Man that was Used Up‘”) — death and life, rather. Rougé starts by reminding us of Poe’s exploration of the taboo area where life and death overlap. In particular, if a Poe character’s body is dead (he notes), his tongue will be most active (Psyche Zenobia, M. Valdemar, the mummy, Mr. Vankirk) — or vice versa, as in the case of Mr. Lackobreath. In “The Man that was Used Up,” body and tongue are all but lacking, and also the truth about them, as in the tales of ratiocination. So the tale develops as an inquest on a border-case body. Rougé sees the General as a prosthetic monster disguising its own non-being (just as the text itself hides a lack of meaning) in a society whose utopian project is a mere prosthesis. He cleverly concludes, “thesis, antithesis, prosthesis,” giving striking meaning to certain details on the way (the general tells us, for instance, that the Indians “took the trouble to cut off at least seven eighths of [his] tongue” and “A.B.C.,” the initials of his middle names, are a little less than one eighth of the whole alphabet!) and moves on, following Poe’s own crescendo, to the main prosthesis: the prosthesis for articulated speech. The tongue hinges the body on to language and vice versa and cannot but be the focus of Poe’s quest for a hinge between life and death. The tale appears then as a satire of all orders (technical, social, but also mythical and textual) in as much as they try to cover up with intelligible signs the gaping chasm of Death. Bertrand Rouge seems ready to follow Poe beyond even that but desists, leaving us with “used up” Poe passing “the threshold” on October 7, 1849. His reading of the tale is playful (in the teeth of its subject, like the tale itself), suggestive, with one or two false clues, it seems to me, and a great display of intellectual vitality.
Mead, Joan Tyler. “Poe's ‘The Man That Was Used Up’: Another Bugaboo Campaign,” Studies in Short Fiction, 1986, 23:281-286.
Reynolds, David S. Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard UP, 1988: 527.
Reynolds polishes off Poe’s canular de canulars in less than a full page. The obligatory acknowledgment of previous confusions is included (.... “scholars have long been mystified by this apparently frivolous comic tale...”).
The solution, however, is simple: Poe is using a kind of reductio ad absurdum so that the tale “deconstructs popular humor by exaggerating its weirdness.”
“... ‘The Man That Was Used Up’ showed him trying to exaggerate subversive humor until it becomes merely inane. Violent humor texts like the Crockett almanacs and some of John Neal's stories had invited the reader to snicker at bloody war action, often involving battles against Indians. Davy Crockett, for example, regularly gouges out Indians' eyes, scalps them with his teeth, disembowels them, salts them, and eats them for dinner. Poe pointedly overturns this kind of dismemberment humor...”.
But then, too, Poe is after rendering comic violence harmless:
“The apparent triviality of this tale has puzzled scholars; but it is its very triviality that constitutes its main meaning and explains its importance for Poe. As in Zenobia's absurd tale, comic violence here is exaggerated to such a degree that it becomes distanced and therefore harmless. Poe does not ask us to laugh at gory pictures of whites massacring Indians, as do several frontier humorists and novelists, but purifies the comedy by asking us to snicker at a ridiculous situation in which dismemberment is safely removed to the realm of the impossible.”
Frivolous, inane, trivial, and impossible: yes to all the above for the surface narrative at least, but what is the solution to the hoax here? Unfortunately, Reynolds ignores the (entirely narrated) action of the story, and evinces no curiosity regarding the narrator’s impetuous quest for Truth, or at least, the truth about the General, thus leaving half the tale dans la tombe.
Brugière, Bernard. “Les Jeux du Corps et de la Conscience dans les Contes de Poe,” Les Figures du Corps dans la Littérature et la Peinture Anglaises et Américaines de la Renaissance à nos jours. France, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1991: 238.
Dayan, Joan. “Amorous Bondage: Poe, Ladies and Slaves,” The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1995: 179-209.
Elmer, Jonathan. Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1995.
Herschbach, Lisa. “Prosthetic Reconstruction: Making the Industry, Re-Making the Body, Modelling the Nation.” History Workshop Journal 44 (1997): 23-57.
Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.
Tresch, John. “‘The Potent Magic of Verisimilitude’: Edgar Allan Poe within the Mechanical Age.” British Journal for the History of Science 30.3 (1997): 275–290.
Benesch, Klaus. “Do Machines Make History? Technological Determinism in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Man that Was Used Up.’” Re-Visioning the Past: Historical Self-Reflexivity in American Short Fiction, eds. Bernd Engler and Oliver Scheiding. Trier: WVT, 1998: 107-120.
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000.
O’Connor, Erin. Raw Material: Producing Pathology in Victorian Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 2000.
Dayan, Joan. “Poe, Persons and Property,” Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race, eds. J. Gerald Kennedy and Liliane Weissberg. New York: Oxford UP, 2001: 115.
Existing as a good citizen, however, does have its costs. In ‘The Man That Was Used Up,’ Brevet Brigadier General John A. B. C. Smith has lost his natural body and voice fighting the Kickapoo Indians. Although he has lost his natural body, he is remade as artificial public hero, fit icon of the body politic. Civilly reconstructed each day, all his synthetic body parts put together by Pompey, his black valet, he literalizes just what it means to sacrifice the natural and gain those privileges that, though unnatural, yet garner for him life, Iimbs, body, and reputation ... . With each successive body part replaced in pursuit of something suggestive of a "more perfect union," the general further articulates and ordains his place in civil sociery regaining the right to enjoy his property (both his body and his servant) with each command, with each insult to the ‘old negro’ on whom he uttedy depends. Replete now with life, liberty, and possessions, Poe's consummate gentleman becomes the person who, in repossessing his body, repossesses the right to kill, enslave, and dispossess.
Leverenz, David. “Spanking the Master: Mind-Body Crossings in Poe’s Sensationalism.” A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP, 2001: 95-128.
Benesch, Klaus. Romantic Cyborgs: Authorship and Technology in the American Renaissance. Amherst, MA: U of Massachusetts P, 2002.
Behling, Laura L. “Replacing the Patient: The Fiction of Prosthetics in Medical Practice,” Journal of Medical Humanities, vol. 26, no. I, Spring 2005: 53-66.
Warne, Vanessa. "’If you should ever want an arm': disability and dependency in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Man That Was Used Up." Atenea, vol. 25, no. 1, June 2005: 95-105.
Willis, Martin. Mesmerists, Monsters, and Machines: Science Fiction and the Cultures of Science in the Nineteenth Century. Kent State UP, 2006.
Kennedy, J. Gerald. “Unwinnable Wars, Unspeakable Wounds: Locating ‘The Man That Was Used Up’.” Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism 39-40 (2006): 77-89.
Goodwin, Peter. “The Man in the Text: Desire, Masculinity, and the Development of Poe's Detective Fiction,” Edgar Allan Poe: Beyond Gothicism, ed. James M. Hutchisson, Newark: U of Delaware P, 2011: 49-68.
Machor, James L. Reading Fiction in Antebellum America: Informed Response and Reception Histories, 1820-1865. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2011.
A one-sentence treatment that merely reiterates Hoffman’s assertion that the tale “would have been recognizable to Poe’s contemporaries as a political satire probably aimed at Winfield Scott.” (67)
Kennedy, J. Gerald. Strange Nation: Literary Nationalism and Cultural Conflict in the Age of Poe, Oxford UP, 2016.
Chacón, Heather. “Prosthetic Colonialism: Indian Removal, European Imperialism, and International Trade in Poe’s ‘The Man That Was Used Up’,” Poe Studies 50, 2017: 46-68.
Margolis, Stacey.“The Perversity of Public Opinion in Poe’s Later Satires and Hoaxes,” in The Oxford Handbook of Edgar Allan Poe, eds. Kennedy, J. Gerald, and Scott Peeples. Oxford UP, 2019: 157-172.
For Margolis, it’s about Jacksonian democracy and “the social alchemy that transform casual talk into the formidable power of public opinion”:
The central problem that engages Poe in satires like “Mellonta Tauta” and “Some Words with a Mummy” is the way Jacksonian democracy becomes, in effect, rule by public opinion. And the problem with public opinion is less the what than the how. The mechanism through which scattered individual opinions become public opinion is the subject of one of Poe’s best satires — “The Man That Was Used Up” (1839) — in which the fatuous celebrity' is not only made up of artificial parts but of interchangeable bits of gossip. The “remarkable something” (M 2; 380) about Brevet Brigadier General John A. B. C. Smith turns out to be that his prosthetic parts so seamlessly meld into a whole — . seamlessness that becomes a material correlative for the social alchemy that transform casual talk into the formidable power of public opinion. Poe imagines a kind of magic in the way that something as trivial as a conversation about an acquaintance over tea or a game of cards eventually makes itself felt as an unassailable public will. What makes the alchemy of public opinion so sinister is that it is collective without being intentional it emerges, but it is traceable to no will, no plan, communal or otherwise. If one thinks of the foolishness and power of public opinion as a force to be thwarted (as Poe clearly did), the most serious problem it poses is that it presents the social critic with no substantial target — it belongs to everyone and is attributable to no one. The satires attempt to dramatize this elusive process. (l60)
Margolis suggests that the fundamental paradox of public opinion — that what one experiences as an individual turns out to be collective — is what the ending of the tale reveals: “the ‘remarkable ... individuality' of General John A. B. C. Smith is created, like the gossip about him, out of interchangeable parts... (167)”.
In a brilliant reading of the story, Jonathan Elmer remarks of this scene that ‘there is a mode of self-exposure — we could even say confession — which can be both a true description of the self and a true performance of the self (in all its idiosyncratic peculiarities) but in which the simultaneity or coincidence of these two modes of self-revelation is unrecognizable.’ I take this to mean that the attempt to truly objectify the self is a form of madness in that one cannot inhabit mutually exclusive positions at the same time; one cannot assume the point of view of an individual and the social world that both forms and judges that individual.
If it represents a logical impossibility, however, this collapsing of self and social world also describes how Poe understands the fundamental paradox of public opinion — that what one experiences as an individual turns out to be collective. As I have suggested the effects of this kind of merging of social and political life are dramatized in ‘The Man That Was Used Up,’ in which a series of individuals’ seemingly heartfelt declarations of the narrator are revealed to be nothing more than stock phrases. The one expression used by almost everyone — ’Never heard!’ (M 2: 384) — works much like Pundita’s incredulousness in ‘Mellonta Tauta’ and Maillard’s response to the narrator of ‘Tarr and Fether’: ‘Good Heavens! ... I surely do not hear you aright! You did not intend to say eh? that you had never heard of either of the learned Doctor Tarr, or of the celebrated Professor Fether?’ (M3: 1017). In ‘The Man That Was Used Up,’ this sense of universal gestures toward a set of beliefs and a body of (questionable) knowledge that is taken for granted. And, as the ending of the tale reveals, the ‘remarkable ... individuality'’ of General John A. B. C. Smith is created, like the gossip about him, out of interchangeable parts (M 2:378). (l66-7)
The Oxford Handbook (2019) has scant other mention of this tale except to call it “slapstick” (2), and “[o]ne of two ‘American social satires’ between 1839-40 (see ‘Peter Pendulum’)” offered up by Poe. (39)