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Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849) was a famous poet in America who wrote many stories and poems (Hossick 28). He was also an editor as well as a writer and he worked with several journals and publishing homes. He is most famous for his stories of mystery. It is believed that Edgar Allan made a generous contribution to the genre of scientific fiction through his stories and poems of mystery. The most outstanding stories by this poet are the black cat, the cask of Amontillado, William Wilson and the man of the crowd. These four stories are the area of interest in this paper and a comparison in the themes of the four stories will be made.
This story is narrated by Edgar himself and he explains that the story is inspired by his childhood passion for domestic animals. The story is about him and his favorite pet, a cat named as Pluto. Pluto and Edgar were good friends until Edgar changed abruptly, became violent and a drunkard. The situation worsened and Edgar killed the cat, an act that haunted him and prompted him to look for another cat to replace Pluto with. The new black cat does not bring peace to Edgar and the story ends with Edgar killing both the black cat and his wife. The narrator takes the audience through the story with lots of symbolism and imagery.
The main theme of this story is the man’s fear of the unknown such as the fear of darkness, illusion and spaces. In the story, Edgar finds his house on fire after killing Pluto, and later he sees an image of a huge cat on the wall of his house. Perverseness is also a theme in this story where the quilt feeling by Edgar causes fear in his life (Barger and Poe, 59). There is also the theme of self destruction which is shown by the way Edgar brings trouble to himself through alcoholism and his violent actions. Another theme is the theme of vengeance (Lippmann 45). The black cat haunts Elgar in order to avenge its death and in the end of the story, the cat alerts draws the attention of the police to the acts of Elgar. The most outstanding elements in this story are the elements of horror and superstition. It is superstition that makes Edgar think that he has seen a cat on the wall of his burnt house, a symbol of Pluto hanging on the noose. Another important element in the story is the cat itself, which plays the roles of an actor, symbol, and a device to develop the plot. It doubles up as both a real creature and a ghost by dying and another cat reappearing in the story. This element of doubling is used in German folklore to signify bad luck or bad omen. The name Pluto is also symbolic as according to Roman mythology, the name symbolizes death or misfortunes. The story is also ambiguous, with the question of whether the reappearance of the cat was natural or superstitious being left unanswered.
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CASK OF AMONTILLADO
In this story the narrator, Montressor, is not happy as the others during the annual celebration of the beginning of Lentern season. The reason why he is not happy is because of the many offenses committed against him by Furtunato. Montressor is out to revenge and he looks for an opportunity to do so. He uses a new wine by the name of Amontillado as bait to catch Furtunato and he succeeds and kills him brutally. The themes in the story are revenge, deception and pride. Montressor is out to revenge against Fortunato for the many offences he has committed, the most recent one being an insult. Deception is another theme shown by the way the way Montressor uses Amontillado to lure Fortunato to the catacombs where he kills him. Pride is evidenced by the believe Fortunato has on his ability to know whether the wine presented to him is truly Amontillado. He believed in his ability even though he was not sober and he was also unwell (Barger and Poe 88).
The story is narrated by a person on the verge of death, and it first builds on flash back. He is disturbed and seeks to get the reader to sympathize with him by informing the reader that his bad deeds were out of unavoidable circumstances. One theme of the story is the enemy within, which means destroying oneself or working against ones interests through alcoholism, drug abuse and others. There is an inner spirit that develops within us and cause fear of some things, depression or lack of sleep. According to Barger and Poe, the narrator is facing such a situation and in his struggle to overcome it, he fights against himself and loses (620). The other theme is the theme of terror which is shown by the way the narrator struggles to fight against an imaginary enemy.
THE MAN OF THE CROWD
This is the story of a man in the streets of London who has been suffering from an unknown illness. His sits outside and starts categorizing passers by where he notices one old man and follows him. The pursuit extends to the next day and the man is not able to understand the mission of the old man. The main theme in this story is the theme of mystery which is shown in the way the young man can not categorize the old man from the looks, as opposed to the other people in the streets. Even after following the old man for a long time, the man can not tell the motives of the old man and leaves the reader to find out for themselves (Barger and Poe 298).
COMPARISON OF THE STORIES
Through out the four stories, there are some themes that seem to recur, which are insanity as opposed to rationality, obsession, man and death, double identity, love or hatred, curiosity, resolve among others. About insanity and rationality, in the four stories there are people whose decisions are not driven by rationality but by an element of insanity. In the Black cat, the insanity was brought by influence from alcohol and Elgar is not in control of his decisions (Lippmann 68). Also, in the Cask of Amontillado, Fortunato is driven by drunkenness to accept the challenge to test the wine. The same case applies to the story William Wilson who is so disturbed that his decisions are not rational. In the man of the crowd, the man is driven by an unnamed sickness to sit idly in a coffee shop and categorize people. His move to follow an old man for so long is also an insane decision since he does not stand to benefit from discovering who the old man was.
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Another common theme in the stories is obsession. The characters in the stories are obsessed with different things and this obsession is a source of misfortunes or death to the characters. In the Black cat, the narrator is obsessed with the cat, his favorite pet and alcohol while in the story of the cask of Amontillado; Fortunato is obsessed with alcohol (Lippmann 176). There is also the obsession with discovering the truth in the man of the crowd. In the story of William Wilson, the narrator is obsessed with fighting against self and wining.
Throughout the stories, double identity is used to develop the plot. In the black cat, the black cat doubles as a both a natural creature as well as a ghost by dying and reappearing. In the story of the cask of Amontillado, the wine doubles as something to cheer up Fortunato and also as something to kill him. In the story William Wilson, the narrator’s struggle against self results to both a win and a loss while in the story the man of the crowd, the young man doubles as the man we know as well as a mysterious man.
In the stories, Elgar has employed the use of symbolism, anaphora and first person narration in his work. In the story of the black cat, the cat is used to symbolize misfortune. In the cask of Amontillado, the name ‘Amontillado’ is also used to show bad luck. Anaphora is repeating a phrase or a word before the beginning of lines often to show emphasis and create balance. In the story of the black cat, he uses anaphora as shown in the line “...I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen…..”(Barger and Poe 62) and in the story of William Wilson, anaphora is shown in the line “…The same name! The same contour of person! The same of arrival...” (Barger and Poe 625).Irony is also used as shown in the story of the black cat. The cat which was initially a great friend to Edgar turned to be an enemy and cause of trouble to him. In the cask of Amontillado, when Montressor gives Fortunato wine, he toasts “to his long life” knowing very well that h would kill him. When they are ascending the stairs, he also tells him that his life is respected, which was not true since he was planning to kill him.
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Allan Edgar was a good writer who used various tools in his short stories to develop the story as well as to bring out the various themes. His favorite themes were mystery, obsession and revenge and these are common in most of his works (Hossick 67). He used the first person narration since it is more captivating and also convenient. His short stories are informative, thrilling as well as entertaining due to his literature skills.