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Comparing Power in Cask of Amontillado, Rappaccini’s Daughter, and Bartleby

Power in Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter, Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, Phelps’ Angel over the Right Shoulder and Child’s The Quadroon

In Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado Montressor seeks his revenge (for an imagined offense) on Fortunado. He manipulates Fortunado into beliving that he is a friend and that they are going through the crypt. He uses Fortunado’s “weak point” –his love of alcohol– against him. He creates the illusion of concern by insisting that they turn around to save poor Fortunado’s health. Montressor manipulates the entire situation from beginning to end. His greatest achievement is that Fortunado would know what was happening to him by dying a slow death and more importantly, he would know who was behind the elaborate plan for his death. Montressor (who is mentally unstable) is a corrupt man who thrives off of the power he has (had) over Fortunado.

In Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter we find two instances of a power struggle and manipulation. The Scientist has used his daughter in an experimental attempt to give her a one-of-a-kind gift. Failing in his attempt he has in a sense “cursed” his daughter. He has taken away her power to choose her own life–she is at the mercy of her “gift” and is suffering the results of his ambition. Baglioni uses Giovanni in a different way. He uses Giovanni to gain power over Rappaccini. He manipulates Giovanni into thinking that Rappaccini is corrupt and that Beatrice can be saved by his antidote. Rappaccini is corrupt because he uses his daughter to practice his scientific experiments. If his intention to enable her with a gift was indeed genuine then he may not be as “wicked” as Baglioni. Baglioni’s intentions were purely evil. He man…

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… the characters in this story are all manipulated and repressed by the power of the social code of the time regarding quadroons. Everything in the story hinges not only on the social pressures, but also on the fragility of love. She belives that he will love her (even though he is not legally bound to her) and together they could face the injustice of the world or merely hide from it. Due to his ambition, he betrays her and leaves her and his daughter. He does no service to either of the three women–his common-law wife by breaking her heart and leaving her to cope with a child, the child left without a father and a social outcast, and his new wife by marrying her just for the social and economic position it would bring him and especially since she learns that he is still in love with the other woman. The victims in this story are manipulated by one man’s ambition.

Comparing Artist of the Beautiful, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Birthmark and Prophetic Pictures

Comparing Perfection in Artist of the Beautiful, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Birthmark and Prophetic Pictures

In four of Hawthorne’s stories there is a struggle for power and control as a vehicle to obtain perfection or beauty. In “The Artist of the Beautiful”, “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, “The Birthmark” and “The Prophetic Pictures” the characters are controlled by their desire for perfection in their creations, but they do not achieve their goals without sacrifice.

In “The Artist of the Beautiful” Owen is spends years perfecting his creation. His quest for “the Beautiful” controls him. His sensitivity to delicate perfection affects him even physically as he is made ill by the large mechanical steam engine. “Being once carried to see a steam-engine…he turned pale and grew sick, as if something monstrous and unnatural had been presented to him”. He is as delicate as the butterfly he creates. “For Heaven’s sake…as you would not drive me mad, do not touch it! The slightest pressure of your finger would ruin me forever”. In his obsessive pursuit of perfection he cuts himself off from the human experience. He builds what he believes he was “created for” without a thought to what he is sacrificing to achieve his goal. The butterfly is mysterious and beautiful, but for all of his effort it is destroyed. Years are sacrificed in the quest for perfection. To Owen the sacrifice may have been well worth it, but considering Hawthorne’s warnings about the folly of separating oneself from humanity in other stories, he may again be saying that Owen’s quest for mechanical perfection is an empty victory in light of the life and joy he could have had with Annie.

In “Rappaccini’s Daughter” the scientist sacrifices his own daughter to bot…

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…retched lady!…did I not warn you?”, “You did…but- I love him!” Apparently, the artist painted the truth and the fate of Elinor’s relationship with Walter, but persuaded by love, she chose to ignore his warnings. The power of the artist is clear. He tried to make Elinor see her future with Walter clearly. But it was the power of denial (and the power of love?) that Elinor chose to follow.

I think Hawthorne may be implying in these stories that perfection is unattainable and the quest for it may be unrewarding, even fatal. In these and some of Hawthorne’s other stories, I believe he is reminding people of the delicate blessings of life. Our pursuit of happiness outside of a connection with other people and our reckless endeavor to supersede the power of the supernatural may result in temporary satisfaction, but is ultimately unfulfilling and even dangerous.

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