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Edgar Allan Poe: The Concept of Punishment

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the classics of world literature. His talent is multifaceted, and the author is considered the founder of the detective genre. In the stories, supernatural events occur, many of which are associated with death. The concepts of punishment and alienation are familiar to the author and can be easily traced in his two works: “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The main similarity of both works is that the human soul seems to be horrified, coming into contact with a world where there is no place for spirituality. The theme of death also tightly permeates both novels, creating a dark mood peculiar to their author.

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The story “The Cask of Amontillado” is about the confession of a murderer, the story of the terrible revenge, which takes place in an unnamed Italian city during a carnival. The text is written in the first person, and in general, this is a monologue, the confession of a certain Montresor, an impoverished man who was harassed by Fortunato (Poe 149). The offender of the main character was a nobleman from a wealthy family. However, the reader is not allowed to learn what kind of humiliation Montresor received. The reader only knows that “a thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could” (Poe 147). Thus, readers are not shown the injuries themselves and can also attribute suspiciousness to the main character. However, this makes the overall tone of the story even gloomier.

In its genre, “The Fall of the House of Usher” refers to a Gothic novella. Such work is characterized by an unexpected denouement under a dark, sinister mystery. The author narrates the story, a friend of the main character, a manic depression-stricken aristocrat Roderick Usher. Unlike the first story, the author does not give any specific description of the setting. The narrator arrives at the estate of his friend and learns that Usher is ill and his sister (Poe 128). The main character is sure that the gloomy ancestral castle is killing its residents. Soon, the Usher sister dies and is buried in a crypt. Later, the two friends hear “distinct, hollow, and clangorous, yet muffled reverberation” from there and learn that Madelaine was buried alive (Poe 135). She came out of the crypt and died in her brother’s arms.

The main idea of Poe’s works is the tragedy that arises when sensual natures collide with the cruel reality. This problem is the main similarity between the two works of Edgar Poe. This collision causes pain and fear in the vulnerable soul. The author was one of the first to note this trend, which causes a complete loss of spirituality and humanity. The central theme in the author’s novels is the expression of all the horror of human existence. The primary aspect for Poe is to capture the horror in its most vivid manifestations. The novelist’s interest in the theme of loneliness and abandonment resonates in his work.

The unreliability of the narrator is found in many of Poe’s works. In “The Cast of Amontillado,” the narrator becomes a killer. It is the fact that he committed this terrible crime involving a human being that makes him an unreliable narrator. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator falls under the influence of the castle and can no longer think soberly. This also makes him unreliable, as his thoughts are clouded, and it is increasingly difficult to believe him.

Both works are distinguished by the different presence of dialogues. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, since the narrative is conducted by the author himself, dialogues are used to immerse the reader in the atmosphere, to put him in the place of the protagonist. This technique makes it possible to understand the feelings of characters and possibly give an explanation for their actions. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe neglects dialogues, giving them a small role (Poe 136). In this case, the author focuses more on creating a dark and disturbing environment. In both works, the setting crushes and destroys the characters from the outside. It creates and shapes the dark and terrible environment of the characters, capturing their lives and forcing them to commit uncharacteristic acts.

In both works, the author uses the theme of death. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” the main character administers his justice by killing his abuser. Poe uses such a story to make the reader wonder if revenge can be justified and is the only possible solution. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” death seems to haunt the inhabitants of a castle; it does not give them peace. The mysterious illness of Roderick’s sister turns out to be nothing more than lethargy, far from mystical causes. The revived girl’s appearance becomes a living embodiment of his most crucial fear of death and life. It is important to note that there is always a noticeable emphasis on fear of one’s finiteness, death, and time in Poe’s work. Besides, it is the horror of insanity, the fear of contact with other people. All these phobias completely destroy and thin out the personality.

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Even though at first glance it may seem that the two stories are markedly different from each other, there is still a connection between them. In both works, readers can see the psychological pressure and what it can do to a person. Somewhere it is present almost throughout the entire work, and somewhere it suddenly appears, but at the same time plays a key role. In these novels, there is a face of death, which suggests that before death, everyone is equal.

Work Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. Edgar Allan Poe. Complete Tales and Poems: The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Gold-Bug, The Black Cat. Strelbytskyy Multimedia Publishing, 2021.

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