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Comparing Immorality in The Rise of Silas Lapham and The Octopus

Motivation of Immorality in The Rise of Silas Lapham and The Octopus

In both William Dean Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham and The Octopus by Frank Norris, a character is faced with the moral issues involved with operating his business. Howells’ character, Silas Lapham (The Colonel) and Norris’ Magnus Derrick are both desirous to have a prominent position in their respective societies, but are in the precarious situation of having to deploy immoral methods to achieve this coveted stature during the course of harder times. Each man has aspirations to be powerful, prestigious, famous, and/or wealthy. In combination with their lack of humility for their lofty position in society and their over ambitious definition of success, both are caused great distress on the path and during the fight to reach this egotistic plateau. The image created through their business venture became the primary tool to evaluate their own personal vision of success, and in doing so, the two men’s morals and values became tainted, family relations were hurt and even devastated, in addition to creating social debacles that caused incredible harm to many others.

Silas’ background consisted of poverty, hardships, and hard work. He acquired his own wealth and that opened doors that were unknown to him or his family. The Colonel’s background and attributes led him into an awkward situation of always attempting to appear in society as something that he is not. He is a common, vulgar man, doing his best to appear sophisticated, educated, and knowledgeable, when, in fact, it is only his wealth that connects him to the upper class. His incredible wealth places within him the motivation and false sense of obligation to conform to the tastes and pre…

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… or power or fame. The path to attain these goals is often filled with corruption, heartless doings, and unsympathetic forces. To see past material possessions and to crush one’s ego and its self-centeredness should be sought. To accept one’s lot in life and attempt to not control forces outside of one’s power or nature should be admired. Being concerned with one’s family as a primary responsibility and acting accordingly should be hailed an accomplishment. To face an evil force sweeping into one’s reality and being able to hold onto one’s morals and values in spite of it, an achievement.

Works Cited

Howells, William Dean. The Rise of Silas Lapham. New York: Signet Classic, 1983..

Marx, Karl. “The Alienation of Labor.” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Richard Hooker, 1996: 1-9.

Norris, Frank. The Octopus. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

Writing Techniques in Poe’s The Raven

Writing Techniques in Poe’s “The Raven”

Edgar Allan Poe uses several writing techniques to create a single concentrated effect of unending despair in his classic poem, “The Raven.” The most noticeable technique is the use of repetition. Just as repeated exposure to cold raindrops can chill one to the bone, repeated exposure to words of hopelessness and gloom creates a chilling effect. Poe saturates the reader with desperate futility by repetitive use of the words “nothing more” and “nevermore.” These two phrases, used in refrain to end seventeen of the poem’s eighteen stanzas, drench the reader with melancholy. Poe also uses repetition to spark the reader’s curiosity. He refers to the sound of rapping or tapping eight times in the first six stanzas. The unexplained repetitive sound helps the reader identify with the search for answers that the speaker is experiencing. Poe makes use of repetition to emphasize feeling with the words, “‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice'” (33). Repeating the word “surely” adds a sense of desperation concerning the search.

Poe uses a gothic setting to create an atmosphere of gloom. The time is described as “a midnight dreary” (1) in “the bleak December” (7). The supernatural is referred to through the words “ghost” (8), “angels” (11, 81, 95), “Plutonian” (47), “soul” (19, 56, 93, 99,107), “ominous” (70), “unseen censer” (79), “prophet” (85, 91), “thing of evil” (85, 91), “devil” (85, 91), and “demon” (105). The time of night and the inhospitable weather outside allow no escape from the speaker’s chamber which becomes a chamber of horror.

Contrast intensifies the sense of gloom. The windy, bleak, December night is contrasted to a room full of books, ric…

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…anguage and a memorable singular effect. Poe’s use of the first person perspective combines with vivid details of sight and sound to form a powerful connection between the speaker and the reader. Poe shows how the sounds of words can be used to suggest more than their actual meaning. The poem displays the impact of setting on a character and reveals the use of contrast as a tool to magnify descriptions. “The Raven” demonstrates how the effect of rhythm and repetition can be as hypnotic as the swinging of a pendulum and as chilling as a cold rain. “The Raven” is a poem better experienced than interpreted. Poe’s words go down like an opiate elixir inducing a fascinating, hypnotic effect.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Eds. Nina Baym, et. al. 4th ed. New York, London: W.W. Norton

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