The epigraph says how terrible it is to never be alone, and the story serves as a metaphor for Poe to comment on how he views someones ability to actually be apart from the crowd. The story goes to show how social norms, thoughts of others, and inherent desires limit someone from ever being truly alone. Poe seems to believe that people are always a part society and are never fully separate and that possibly no one actually wishes to escape the crowd entirely.
The thoughts of the narrator of the story represent how thoughts of others create unknowing connections that make it so no one is alone. The narrator serves as a direct example of the opinions people form while viewing others. He regard[s] with the minute interest the innumerable varieties of figure, dress, air, gait, visage, and expression of countenance (Poe, 233) of the individuals in the crowd. If he sees a person with a filmy dimness of eye and talking with a guarded lowness of tone in conversation then he assumes he is a gambler that prey[s] upon the public (Poe, 234).
He uses the aforementioned characteristics to determine what type of person he or she is and ranks them on a scale of what is termed gentility (Poe, 234). Each person is objectified in the narrators mind upon observations of their clothing, cleanliness, and facial expressions. The narrator thinks that he can guess the occupation and lifestyle of a person by simply seeing them for less than a second.
He then forms opinions of the people he sees and they have no way of knowing that he has those thoughts. Although, a person is unaware of the thoughts of others, thoughts create a connection between people. The narrator is connected to the people in the crowd because he is thinking about them. They are oblivious of the connection, but because of the narrator and his thoughts, they are, in a sense, there with someone else.
The mysterious man that the narrator sees demonstrates that even when alone, it is impossible to be alone in the true sense of the word. Even in the large crowd, the people who are not walking or talking with anyone still combine with everyone else to make continuous tides of population (Poe, 233). They, although not interacting with anyone else, are always a part of society. The man that intrigues the narrator is a loner that, although unique, is still a part of the crowd. The man fits into no set group of people that the narrator names because of his contradictory and confusing appearance.
His clothes were made of linen, although dirty, (with a) beautiful texture (Poe 236), suggesting that he is wealthy but does not care enough to look presentable. The idiosyncrasy of (his) expression (Poe, 234) is the greatest contributing factor to why the man cannot be grouped. The man does not fit any of the social norms of society, yet he combines with all of the people to form the crowd.
Poe might be suggesting that even though the man in the crowd believes he is alone, he has the narrator following him and thinking about him. Since he is occupying the narrators mind for so long, the man is making a bigger difference in the crowd than he thinks he is. Poe proves through the mysterious man that even when alone, a person is making a difference and influencing his or her surroundings.
The narrators feelings towards the crowd and the mans anxiety when he is not within a crowd represent the need the narrator has to be a part of it. The narrator having been sick for a few months is craving the sight of others and is filled with a delicious novelty of emotion (Poe, 233) when he sees the crowd. The narrators joy at seeing others shows his unspoken desire to be a part of the outside world. He is drawn into the crowd because of the innate wish to be involved with others and his natural curiosity for them.
The feeling of being together with others gives him a sense of belonging a purpose. The narrator says that the man with every mark of agitation, pursues rapidly a route which brought (them) to the verge of the city (Poe, 238) because he refuses to be alone (Poe, 239). The man wants to be surrounded by people and shows visibly that it is upsetting to not be so. Poe could be using the mans agitation as a symbol of how the narrator subconsciously feels about the crowd. The mysterious man represents how the narrator desires to be with others and feel a sense of belonging to the crowd.
Poes definition of being alone in the story, if applied in more general terms, seems to be if a person can actually separate from others in society. From the narrator and his pursuit of the mysterious man, it can be concluded that Poe does not believe that the separation is possible. It is the thoughts of others and the influences of actions that make it impossible for someone to escape the outside world.
But more importantly than the fact that people cannot elude the opinions and preconceptions of others, is that people want to be noticed. Making a difference and influencing something is an inherent goal for the majority of people. The combination of the inability to escape everyone else and the desire people have to be apart of a group make it impossible to be, at least in the story, alone.
Alone. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. Poe, Edgar A, and Gary R. Thompson. The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe: Authoritative Texts, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004. Print.