Short essay – Nathaniel Hawthorne & Edgar Allan Poe

I decided to publish my short essays on the readings from the Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World course syllabus. The course started on the 1st of June and finished on the 14th of August. The essays were supposed to be around 270-320 words a piece. Today, I publish the essay that I wrote after reading Hawthorne‘s The Birthmark, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, and The Artist of the Beautiful and Poe‘s The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Oval Portrait, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Bells, The Raven, and Annabel Lee. * These are my views and interpretations only index2 In my mind, the assigned readings from Hawthorne and Poe all revolved around a few central themes. The biggest of those was Death. Death features very prominently in all of the stories; many of them actually ending in death (The Birthmark, The Fall of the House of Usher, Annabel Lee, etc.) or featuring a murder (Rappaccini’s Daughter, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, etc.) It isn’t very surprising per se: death is a constant. Death is the end of the line for everyone. It’s the one thing everyone has in common: we all die eventually.

What also stood out as a central theme was obsession. The husband in The Birthmark is so obsessed with the mark on his wife’s face that he goes to great lengths to erase it, to the point that his wife dies during the procedure. The rival professor in Rappaccini’s Daughter is so obsessed with getting one over on Dr. Rappaccini that he kills the man’s daughter. Owen in The Artist of the Beautiful is so obsessed with creating mechanical life that he shuts himself out from the world. The main character from The Black Cat becomes obsessed with the cat, and the cat turns out to be his undoing. And these are just a few of the examples that show obsession is never a good thing; that it poisons one’s mind.

The third theme is science or the occult. A lot of the characters in Hawthorne and Poe’s stories are interested in either science or the occult or the magical. Poor M. Valdemar is kept from true death by the hypnosis his friend has put him under and rots away when finally at peace. And Dr. Heidegger’s elderly friends can’t forget the taste and effects of the water of the Fountain of Youth. Death. Obsession. Interest in science or the occult. Can there really be any happy endings when all three of these themes are involved?


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