Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hawthorne versus Poe

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Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe are among the most popular and influential of American authors to this day, as many young Americans recall studying “The Raven” and “The Scarlet Letter” during their beloved high school years. But what is it about these writers that makes their style so memorable and poignant? It could undoubtedly be argued that their grim details and play on emotions is exactly what makes the difference, yet I argue that it is Hawthorne’s use of psychological moral dilemmas and responsibilities in response to evil in his stories that sets him apart and distinguishes him as the ultimate enigmatic author.

Arguably, Edgar Allan Poe is an extremely creative and popular author of the seemingly psychological story. Ranked with authors such as Hawthorne, Poe’s stories “taught no moral lessons except the discipline of beauty.” It should be noted, however, that Poe’s image of beauty, could be a bit dark and grim, possibly reflecting his life of deep poverty, dark depression, and eccentric tragedy. His poetry and stories were extremely unique and fabulously creative, with a threatening twist. For instance, in “The Raven,” Poe describes a “midnight dreary,” and a “bleak December” when “each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor…sorrow for the lost Lenore.” The raven ominously appears repeating the line, “Nevermore.” In “Ligeia,” Poe illustrates a passage distinctly from a bed of ebony which he describes as a bed of death “I listened in an agony of superstitious terror__but there was no repetition of the sound…in the corpse…along the sunken small veins of the eyelids…Rowena still lived…the lips became doubly shriveled and pinched up in the ghastly expression of death; a repulsive clamminess and coldness overspread rapidly…” Poe uses psychologically descriptive adjectives, but does not go the full extent to insinuate a moral dilemma.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, however, takes psychology in his writing to the next level and encourages the reader to contemplate a moral dilemma. In order to appreciate his stories, such as “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and “Young Goodman Brown,” the reader must contemplate the dilemma over good and evil that Hawthorne has placed before them. Suggestions in his text can be subtle and seem sarcastic, as in “The Minister’s Black Veil,” when Hawthorne discusses it as such “From that time no attempts were made to remove Mr. Hooper’s black veil, or, by a direct appeal, to discover the secret which it was supposed to hide. By persons who claimed a superiority to popular prejudice, it was reckoned merely an eccentric whim, such as often mingles with the sober actions of men otherwise rational, and tinges them all with its own semblance of insanity.” Hawthorne plants a psychological seed in his reader’s mind by the symbolic representation of a black veil over a minister’s face that this is a battle between good and evil and a decision must be made. A similar case occurs in “The Scarlet Letter.” Thus the moral dilemma and psychological play has begun in the story, as well as in the reader’s mind.

It could undoubtedly be argued that both Hawthorne and Poe are effective writers for the mind, yet I argue that it is Hawthorne’s use of psychological moral dilemmas and responsibilities in response to evil in his stories that sets him apart and distinguishes him as the ultimate enigmatic author.

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