As the nameless narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Man of the Crowd" (1840) begins to relate his personal experience in a coffeehouse and on the streets of London, he has complete confidence in his ability to read the crowd on the basis of external signs. By having the narrator alternate reading his newspaper with observing the crowd, Poe parallels the two activities and emphasizes their similarity. Comparing the act of gazing through a window with reading a written text, Poe compared the acts of seeing and reading. In part inspired by the pseudosciences of physiognomy and phrenology, the ability to read the character of people in a crowd was also a part of the increasingly numerous written texts that were starting to appear as part of the modern urban landscape. As nations approached near-universal literacy, their cities began to contain more and more writing. Observing the streets, both literally and figuratively, was becoming a matter of reading. The contemporary figure of the sandwichman reinforced the similarity between reading written texts and reading a person. Overall, "The Man of the Crowd" reflects what Poe saw as a new period in the relationship between word and image. Centuries before, the written word had taken precedence over the visual image, but in this new period the written word was beginning to take on the qualities of an image.

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