Essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe's Use of Guilt in their Work

Essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe's Use of Guilt in their Work

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"Whatever guilt is perpetrated by some evil prompting, is grievous to the author of the crime. This is the first punishment of guilt that no one who is guilty is acquitted at the judgment seat of his own conscience." - Decimus Junius Juvenal 'Satires' (XIII, 1)

Throughout history, the effects of guilt on society have often prompted writers to express their emotions, beliefs, and ways they approach life through their literary works. While some authors use the concept of guilt to express their feelings and attract readers, other authors, like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, use the convention of guilt to teach the society a lesson. Like in Hawthorne?s ?Dr. Heidegger?s Experiment? and Poe?s ?The Masque of Red Death?, both authors employ the theme of guilt to teach a common lesson to the society that one cannot escape guilt. While Hawthorne primarily focuses on the idea of initiation in his story to teach that people cannot forget their guiltiness from their past, Poe utilizes the concept of alienation to teach that people must overcome their guilt, or else their guilt will plague them for the rest of their lives. However, both these concepts of initiation and alienation will later converge into a unified theme and lesson of guilt.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne?s Dr. Heidegger?s Experiment, Hawthorne uses the notion of initiation to express his lesson of guilt to the society by exploring the lives of his characters. In the story, Dr. Heidegger is making a vase of magical water that can bring people back to their youth. However, before he drinks it, he likes to observe the effects, both mental and physical, that the water will have. So he invites his friends, who are all guilty of making some mistakes in their past. When he of...


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...fferent methods to achieve the result, they all converge into a unified theme and lesson. Poe?s concept of alienation is just a variation of Hawthorne?s idea of initiation. Hawthorne expresses his individual lesson, that people cannot avoid their past guilt and faults, by using his characters? lack of initiation to change, while Poe expresses his lesson, that people must overcome their guilt in order to avoid an unhappy situation, by using his character?s attempt to ignore his guilt and that led to his demise. They both depicts that people in society cannot escape guilt. People who are guilty of making regrets and mistakes in the past cannot avoid that guilt. They must face and overcome that guilt in order to avoid gloomy situations. If they are unable to overcome that guilt, then they will be like Prospero in where guilt will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

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