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Comparing Setting and Narrative Style in the Works of Edgar Allen Poe

Setting and Narrative Style in Pit and the Pendulum, House of Usher, Black Cat, and Cask of Amontillado

The focus of this essay is the setting and narrative style used in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Although many critics have different views on Poe’s writing style, perhaps Harold Bloom summed it up best when he said, “Poe has an uncanny talent for exposing our common nightmares and hysteria lurking beneath our carefully structured lives. ” ( 7)

In many of Poe’s works, setting is used to paint a dark and gloomy picture in our minds. I think that this was done deliberatly by Poe so that the reader can make a connection between darkness and death. For example, in the “Pit and the Pendulum”, the setting is originally pitch black. As the story unfolds, we see how the setting begins to play an important role in how the narrator discovers the many ways he may die. Although he must rely on his senses alone to feel his surroundings, he knows that somewhere in this dark, gloomy room, that death awaits him. Richard Wilbur tells us how fitting the chamber in “The Pit and the Pendulum” actually was. “Though he lives on the brink of the pit, on the very verge of the plunge into unconciousness, he is still unable to disengage himself from the physical and temperal world. The physical oppreses him in the shape of lurid graveyard visions; the temporal oppreses him in the shape of an enormous and deadly pendulum. It is altogether appropriate, then, that this chamber should be constricting and cruelly angular” (63).

Setting is also an important characteristic is Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. The images he gives us such as how both the Usher family and the Usher mansion are crumbling from inside waiting to collapse, help us to connect the background with the story. Vincent Buranelli says that “Poe is able to sysatin an atomosphere which is dark and dull. This is one of the tricks which he laregely derived from the tradition of the Gothic tale” (79). The whole setting in the story provides us with a feeling of melancholy. The Usher mansion appears vacant and barren. The same is true for the narrator. As we picture in our minds the extreme decay and decomposistion, we can feelas though the life around it is also crumbling.

The Chosen, My name is Asher Lev, In the Beginning, and The Book of Lights

Assimilation and the American Jew in Potok’s The Chosen, My name is Asher Lev, In the Beginning, and The Book of Lights.

America has always been a country of immigrants, since it was first settled by Europeans over five hundred years ago. Like any country with a considerable immigrant population, American has always faced the problem of assimilation. Because America was founded and settled by immigrants, her culture is a combination of the cultures of other countries. Should these immigrants isolate themselves from the mainstream American culture, or should they sacrifice the culture of their homelands for the benefits American culture has to offer? Judaism in particular has had to deal with the assimilation question. One of the world’s oldest religions, it has remained strong over its six thousand year history by remaining distinct – and isolated – from other cultures. Chaim Potok focuses on how Orthodox and Hasidic Jews have handled this problem in his books The Chosen, My name is Asher Lev, In the Beginning, and The Book of Lights.

Many of Chaim Potok’s characters want the American Jewry to remain isolated from the mainstream American culture:

The world kills us! The world flays our skin from our bodies and throws us into the flames! The world laughs at Torah! And if it does not kill us, it tempts us! It misleads us! It contaminates us! It asks us to join in its ugliness, its abominations! (The Chosen 127)

The Chosen “deals with the problems Jews have faced in trying to preserve their heritage – in particular, the problem of how to deal with the danger of assimilation” (Young). The Jews have always been professionals occupying jobs in medicine, law, education, and other fields requiring a college degree. American Jews, however, face a dilemma: “Ideas from this secular world inevitably impinge upon an individual born in a church community or a synagogue community, especially when that individual embarks on a college experience” (Potok 2). American Jews must either take on nonprofessional jobs, assuming an identity completely different from that of European Jews, or expose themselves to secular America. Isolation is thoroughly impractical for the American Jew.

Chaim Potok’s works often focus on main characters whose talents draw them to the outside world:

When individuals are brought up in the heart of such a community or culture [as Danny’s and Reuven’s did in The Chosen] they learn to commit themselves to its values … They see the world through the system of values of that unique community.

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