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Poe’s Theory and Practice Reflected in The Cask of Amontillado

Poe’s Theory and Practice Reflected in The Cask of Amontillado

Edgar Allan Poe, author of “brilliant reviews, poems, and stories,” was born in 1809, and sadly died, a young man, in 1849 (665). To truly understand Poe, one must note the time period in which he wrote. It was an age of Literary Realism and Dark Romanticism, which was Poe’s arena. The concept of “New Literary Criticism” was not yet mainstream. However, Poe was a critic as well as an acclaimed author. By observing the talents that Poe admired in the writings of others, one may better understand the inner workings of Poe’s infamous short stories. In 1854, Poe wrote a review of the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne entitled “The Importance of the Single Effect in a Prose Tale” (854). In this essay I will compare the strengths Poe champions in Hawthorne’s works with those that accentuate Poe’s well known short story “The Cask of Amontillado.”

According to Poe, “Truth is often . . . the aim of the tale” (855). Perhaps this is why Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” borrows its premise from an allegedly factual incident that took place while Poe was stationed at Boston Harbor.

After unjustly killing a young lieutenant in a duel, a Captain Green was incited, by his men, into drinking a great deal. He was then buried alive under the floorboards. (Agatucci)

Similarly, the unfortunate Fortunato meets his doom while the warmth of liquor soothes his inhibitions. Also like Captain Green, Fortunato was not depicted as an innocent.

Universal truth is considered to be one facet of Literary Realism, or as Shakespeare stated “a mirror held up to [human] nature.” There is hardly an emotion more natural than the need for revenge. While the appearance of forgivenes…

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…ins at once by addressing the reader as a friend: “You, who so well know the nature of my soul” (666). He then proceeds to enlighten the reader as to the unspeakable act he has committed. Poe does this in a demeanor that rests somewhere between bragging and remorse. The regret, however, is not clear until late in the story with the line “My heart grew sick…” (670). We then realize the dreadful deed was committed some 50 years earlier (671). This leads the reader to a discovered sense of urgency in Montresor’s confession. Perhaps he is on his own deathbed, one can only guess. This lends itself to Atwood’s idea that “This is the story [Montresor] must tell, this is the story [we] must hear” (Agatucci). In other words, the reader must commit to Poe as he has to his reader. “The Cask of Amontillado” is more than a story; it is an insightful experience.

Romanticism in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, The Birthmark, and Rappaccini’s Daughter

Romanticism in Young Goodman Brown, The Birth-Mark, and Rappaccini’s Daughter

Nathaniel Hawthorne gives his own definition of romanticism in the preface to The House of Seven Gables. According to Hawthorne, the writer of a romance may “claim a certain latitude” and may “deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture,” as long as he does not “swerve aside from the truth of the human heart.” The writer of a romance “will be wise…to mingle the Marvelous” as long as he does it to a “slight,” however if he “disregards this caution,” he will not be committing “a literary crime” (Hawthorne, House of Seven Gables, preface). Nathaniel Hawthorne consistently stays true to his standards of romanticism. The application of these standards is most abundant and lucid in “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Birth-Mark,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

The chief difference between a novel and a romance as defined by Hawthorne, and in general, is that the writer of novel must stick to reality, whereas the writer a of romance, Hawthorne in this case, may “claim a certain latitude” (T.H.O.S.G., preface). This “latitude” is expressed in “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” “…Dew-drops that hung upon leaf and blossom, and, while giving a brighter beauty to each rare flower, brought everything in the limits of an ordinary experience” (Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” 655). Although a large portion of the story is spent on describing the vegetation that grow in the garden, Hawthorne symbolizes the flowers as dark and mysterious, not realistic. Hawthorne’s use of exaggeration is seen more keenly in “The Birth-Mark.” Hawthorne exaggerates this birthmark to mythical proportions, “dreadful Hand” or “Crimson Hand” is how he refers to Georgiana’s birth-mark….

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…ed that to be successful. Although, it is possible to write a romance without referring to the supernatural, and certainly many have done so, it’s the “Marvelous,” that keeps one coming back for more. In all three stories, Hawthorne refers to the “Marvelous,” thus remaining true to his definition of romanticism.

One may ponder if Hawthorne’s definition of romanticism, as defined in the preface to the House of Seven Gables, was written for that certain work or if his definition of romanticism applies to all his work. As the three works analyzed show, he follows his definition of romanticism throughout his work. Hawthorne succeeds at setting appropriate standards for romanticism and then applying them in his work. Thus, he is remembered as one of the greatest Romantic authors of all time, both by his definition of romanticism and ours. (1057)

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