Stories of Edgar Allan Poe The Man That Was Used Up
Immediately following the title is the subtitle, "A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign, referring to wars against two different Native American tribes. An epigraph from French playwright Pierre Corneille's Le Cid reads "Pleurez, pleurez, mes yeux, et fondez vous en eau!/La moitie de ma vie a mis l'autre au tombeau," or "Cry, cry, my eyes, and dissolve yourselves with tears!/The one half of my life has sent the other half to the grave." These words suggest that "The Man That was Used Up" could be about a warrior dying, since a warrior is the central figure in Le Cid Next, yet another unnamed narrator describes his admiration for a great war hero named Brevet Brigadier-General John A.B.C. Smith, whom everybody seems to know about. He admits that he is frustrated because he thinks that there is something unusual about Smith, but he does not know what exactly this is.
The narrator embarks on a detailed description of Smith's entire appearance, "[N[othing could be more richly flowing, or possess a brighter gloss [than his head of hair]. It was of a jetty black; which was also the color...of his unimaginable whiskers...it is not too much to say that they were the handsomest pair of whiskers under the sun...Here were the most entirely even, and the most brilliantly white of all conceivable teeth. From between them, upon every proper occasion, issued a voice of surpassing clearness, melody, and strength...[His eyes] were of a deep hazel exceedingly large and lustrous" Poe, pg. 202. The Brigadier-General is very handsome, in addition to be a public hero for his role in fighting against the savage Bugaboo and Kickapoo Native American tribes. More details are revealed about the beauty of Smith's chest, legs, and frame, comparing his shape to that of a perfectly sculpted work of art; the narrator even wishes that a sculptor friend could have seen Smith could have seen such perfection in the form of a living breathing human being. However, he adds that in spite of these remarkable traits, there is something that confuses him about Smith's appearance. These perfect details are too good to be true, and the narrator puzzles over what exactly it is that is bothering him about this veteran soldier.
Accompanying a friend to visit the Brevet Brigadier-General John A.B.C. Smith, the narrator says that Smith was admired by women because of his great courage, as he was a very remarkable man. His friend mentions again the battle between the Bugaboo and Kickapoo Indian tribes in the deep South, where Smith emerged victorious. Smith emerges from his room and shakes the friend's hand and that of the narrator, who admires the man's melodious voice. John Smith and the narrator fall into a deep discussion about the current state of war in the world, as the decorated soldier applauds the growth of technology and "mechanical invention." He explains that "There is nothing at all like it...we are a wonderful people, and live in a wonderful age. Parachutes and railroads -- man-traps and spring guns! Our steamboats are upon every sea...And who shall calculate the immense influence upon social life -- upon arts -- upon commerce -- upon literature -- which will be the immediate result of electromagnetics! The most wonderful...Mr. -- Thompson, I believe...mechanical contrivances are daily springing up like mushrooms" Poe, pg. 204, also praising the invention of the Nassau balloon as yet another example of modern technology. The narrator declares later that "Thompson" is not his name at all but is unconcerned; he is even more interested to learn why the Brigadier-General Smith seems to have some hidden secret about his personality.
Thus, the narrator sets out on a quest for information leading to the solution of this mystery. He asks all of his friends about Smith and especially about his battles with the Bugaboo and Kickapoo tribes. First he asks his friend Miss Tabitha T. who knows all of the gossip, while they are in church together one Sunday. The woman says that "This is a wonderfully inventive age!" adding that Smith is a brave man who fought like a true hero, interrupted when saying "he's the man--" because Reverend Doctor Drummummupp begins his sermon about the brevity of human life and how man "cometh up and is cut down like a flower." The conversation with Tabitha ends, out of respect for the church. During the following evening at the Rantipole Theater, he seeks out two other women during a showing of Shakespeare's Othello while the actor Climax is performing the role of Iago. Miss Arabella and Miranda Cognoscenti banter back and forth about Smith when asked by the narrator, as Miranda marvels at his handsome body, while together they recall how savage the Bugaboos had been, declaring "we live in a wonderfully inventive age," just as Tabitha had done. Now again, they are interrupted by the performance on the stage as Climax screams his lines loudly, ending the narrator's conversation.
Immediately afterwards, the narrator goes behind the scenes and soon beats up Climax because he interrupted his conversation. Later that evening he attends
When he returns to speak with Mrs. Pirouette, she has of course disappeared. Finally, he asks Mr. Theodore Sinivate, knowing this man to be both focused and informed. Yet Sinivate exclaims again that it is a "wonderfully inventive age" and tries to change the subject by mentioning Captain Mann; the incensed narrator declares "Captain Mann be damned!" and demands to know more about Brigadier-General Smith. Sinivate pauses upon saying "he's the ma-a-an --" and the narrator asks if he is "the man in the mask," but his companion says no, nor is he the "man in the mo-o-on," at which the narrator rushes out of the house, insulted that Sinivate did not give a direct answer to his question, vowing to get revenge upon him as well. He feels as if everyone else knows about some secret, but they refuse to reveal it to him. The more that he seeks an answer, the more elusive the truth that he craves seems to become. At last, the narrator decides to visit Smith and demand to hear the truth from him directly, rather than darting around with crowds of people who annoy him.
Upon entering the home of the Brevet Brigadier-General John A.B.C. Smith that next morning, a Negro servant declares that Smith is getting dressed but allows entry when the narrator insists that he is there on urgent business. The two go into Smith's bedroom, where Smith is no where to be immediately seen. A "large and exceedingly odd-looking bundle of something" was lying on the floor, and the narrator kicks it away because he has become so irritable. An odd voice suddenly speaks up from the bundle that the narrator is very rude, as the bundle asks for its leg to be put on from a servant named Pompey, at which a fully clothed leg is screwed onto the bundle. This bundle is the Brigadier-General Smith, and he defends his disordered appearance by saying simply that the Bugaboo and Kickapoo tribes really brutalized him during battle, as an arm is screwed into his body by Pompey. Next a chest and shoulders are attached to his body, while Smith names the manufacturers of these creations; a wig is brought forth, as are a set of fake teeth because a Bugaboo Indian smashed out all of his teeth with the bottom end of a rifle, as he cries aloud to Pompey "Now, you nigger, my teeth!" An eye is then screwed into his head as well, and the narrator marvels at what an extraordinary transformation has just taken place before his very eyes.
One of the few things that does not now resemble the Brigadier-General Smith is the odd-sounding voice, until Smith asks for his "palate," or for the roof of his mouth to be put in. When this object is thrust into Smith's mouth, his entire facial structure changes as does the tone and quality of his voice. Fully restored, he explains "'[Damn] the vagabonds! they not only knocked in the roof of my mouth, but took the trouble to cut off at least seven eighths of my tongue. There isn't Bonfanti's equal, however, in America, for really good articles of this description. I can recommend you to him with confidence,' [here the General bowed] 'and assure you that I have the greatest pleasure in so doing'" Poe, pg. 211. Soon after observing these events, the narrator says good-bye to the famous and decorated Brevet Brigadier-General John A.B.C. Smith, since he has at last solved the riddle that has irked him for so long, which everyone had avoided discussing with him because it no doubt made them nauseous to think of what he really looked like. Smith is not the man in the moon or Captain Mann or Manfred, but he is instead "the man that was used up," with nothing left of himself. The handsome personal appearance that he had once admired in Smith is all fake, sacrificed so many years ago when he had fought such heroic battles in the American wilderness. In return for these memories of greatness, Smith is now reduced to live his life inside of an elaborate costume. As the narrator had once guessed correctly to Sinivate, Smith truly is the man in the mask.