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Dilemmas in Hamlet and The Fall of the House of Usher

In the famous play of William Shakespeare Hamlet, the English poet tried to show the tragic image of a man who is trying to find answers to the eternal questions of life and death. The play focuses on vengeance and personal conflict of the main character. Likewise, an unnamed narrator from the gothic story of Edgar Allan Poe The Fall of the House of Usher reluctantly becomes engaged in the events happening in the ancient castle of his old friend Roderick (Poe, 2012).

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Also, the revenge theme is slightly touched upon in the story as well. The narrator was not aware that he assisted Roderick to bury his sister alive. This act of injustice provokes a vengeance of the supernatural forces at the story’s end, which drives to the conclusion that in both Elizabethan and modern society revenge still plays one of the key roles. Characters in both literary works are chained to the course of events and face personal conflicts. This essay will explore the character of Hamlet and compare Hamlet’s dilemma to the predicament of the unknown narrator of The Fall of the House of Usher, and examine the role of vengeance in the modern society.

Hamlet is one of the most admired and distinguished characters of world literature. The tragedy of Hamlet is not in the bloody events of the play, but in what changes occur in his head and soul. Before his father was killed, Hamlet lived a serene life surrounded by lovely parents and loyal friends, and his future as a ruler was predetermined. However, in no time everything collapsed: his father was murdered, his mother betrayed him and quickly married his uncle, later he found out his uncle was the killer. Hamlet was distinguished for his nobility; he thought and acted based on high humanistic ideals about a man.

However, the troubles that struck Hamlet made him look at everything from a different perspective. He wondered about the worthiness of life, happiness, and evil. Later, he saw the world as a garden, where the fruits were evil and insidious. There is a slight connection between the philosophies of the two characters. The atmosphere of extreme despair, gloom, mystery, and approaching tragedy is felt in the story from the very first words of the unknown narrator from The Fall of the House of Usher as he approaches the house of Roderick Usher (Poe, 2011).

Roderick’s and his sister’s world is confined within the walls of their old dilapidated castle. Throughout the story, the narrator is in literal and figurative darkness. As claimed by Atkinson (n.d.), he analyses each event and tries to make sense, find the meaning and logical conclusions.

In this story, grief and despondency come to the forefront, and the narrator realizes the hopelessness of his being. Thus, both characters’ worldview is significantly changed due to the occurred events.

Throughout the stories, Hamlet and the narrator face a difficult, perplexing situation that leads them to psychological instability. In Hamlet’s case, the true tragedy is that he broke down mentally when he saw the terrible side of life. Pretending to be insane, he is actually on the verge of madness from the consciousness of how monstrous people are. Hamlet often speaks of death. Particularly, in his monologue “To be or not to be?” he is concerned about the very mystery of death (Verma, 2016).

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Soon after the first appearance before the audience, he gives a secret though: life has become so disgusting that he would have committed suicide if it were not considered a sin. According to Javed (2013), Hamlet “cannot recognize his father’s utter unconcern for son’s personality as such…” (p. 332). Therefore, suicide seems impossible until the vengeance mission imposed by the ghost of his father is accomplished. Although there is not much information provided about the narrator in Poe’s story, the narrator shares his feelings about Usher’s house and family, and his role appears to be compelling.

He shows genuine empathy toward his childhood friend’s request to visit him. He was supposed to help Roderick deal with his sickness, but instead, the narrator becomes fearful and anxious by the surrounded atmosphere. Eventually, the narrator who was the only rational person with adequate analytical thinking also contracts the insanity from Usher but refuses to acknowledge it. In the end, he runs away from the house before its destruction. According to George (2014), the house of Usher symbolizes “a mirror of the fracturing psyche of the narrator.” In this manner, both characters were victims of ongoing events, and their internal state was altered.

Hamlet and the narrator of The Fall of the House of Usher have some similarities in their behavior. Despite the moral distinction of his character, Hamlet is criticized for his indecisiveness. It can be explained by a desire to avoid making quick and biased decisions that could lead to the fatal end. According to Hooti (2013), “It shows that Hamlet as an educated person does not want to be the victim of his mere emotions and intuitions; that is why he keeps on postponing his judgment on his father’s death” (p. 3908).

The father’s ghost appears to him in an attempt to persuade him to revenge. Even though Hamlet had multiple opportunities to kill Claudius, his morality tortured his consciousness. The inner drama of Hamlet is that he repeatedly reproaches himself for slowness and passiveness, but does not do anything. Sometimes the idea is expressed that Hamlet is not a strong-willed person, but a thinker and an observer who is not capable of brave actions. Similarly, the narrator is depicted to be a passive observer of Usher’s tragedy.

From the beginning to the end of the story, the narrator is defined as an outsider. Even when Roderick and the narrator bury Madeline in the tomb, the narrator notices some signs of life in her- blushing cheeks and chest, but he chooses to do nothing about it. On the other hand, the narrator is somewhat helpful in curing Roderick’s melancholy: he spends quite an amount of time on various activities with his childhood friend. In spite of his good intentions, the narrator’s presence is almost unnoticeable as he is a dormant witness “whose purpose seems to be of that convincing himself that what he sees is not true” (Varnado, 2015, p. 71).

The theme of revenge is fairly present in both literary works. Revenge remains to be the main method of establishing justice. If at first Hamlet doubted the idea of revenge, after seeing Claudius’ reaction, he became determined to revenge and believed his actions were justified (Verma, 2016). According to Chin-Yi (2014), Hamlet was not driven solely by the idea of revenge. Hamlet was eager to revenge, but with that, he realized that his goal is much harder to achieve.

His ultimate goal was to oppose evil everywhere in the world. Hamlet’s character rather was used to serve as a manifesto of the struggle for justice and truth (Chin-Yi, 2014). However, the contradiction appears when Hamlet uses the same immoral means as his opponents to achieve the goal. He pretends to be insane, deceives, and he is guilty of the death of several people for the noble purpose. Likewise, the narrator had no idea that Roderick had asked him to entomb his sister, suffering from deathlike trances, while she was still alive. This act of injustice provokes a vengeance of the supernatural forces at the story’s end, which drives to the conclusion that in both Elizabethan and modern society revenge still plays one of the key roles.

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The play raises eternal questions that always worry the humanity: how to win over the evil? Is it worth living if life is full of evil and it is impossible to overcome it? What is truth and what is a lie? Despite the gloomy ending, there is no desperate pessimism in Shakespeare’s tragedy. The ideals of Hamlet are ineradicable, majestic, and his struggle against a vicious, unjust world should serve as an example for other people. The story of the tragedy has eternal value and will always be relevant, regardless of time and place. Similarities examined between two characters showed that both felt passive and undecided had experienced personal conflicts and related to revenge.

References

Atkinson, T. (n.d.). Logic and religion in Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher: Deconstruction, psychoanalysis and symbolism. Web.

Chin-Yi, C. (2014). Hamlet as instrument of divine justice. International Journal of Research, 1(5), 330-333.

George, K. (2014). Repression and reconciliation: Exploration of narrative psyche in The Fall of the House of Usher. Academic Excellence Showcase Schedule. 134. Web.

Hooti, N. (2013). William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A deconstructive study. International Research Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences, 4(11), 3903-3909.

Javed, T. (2013). Perfect idealism in Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet. The Dialogue, 8(3), 1-7.

Poe, E. A. (2011). The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Stories. London, UK: Penguin Books Limited.

Varnado S. (2015). Haunted presence: The numinous in gothic fiction. Tuscaloosa, AL: University Alabama Press.

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Verma, A. (2016). Hamlet: Shakespeare’s masterpiece in our times. Language in India,16(7), 73-80.

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