Allegory, Symbolism, and Madness – Comparing the Demons of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne
As contemporaries of each other, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne endeavored to write about man’s dark side, the supernatural influence, and moral truths. Each writer saw man as the center-point in his stories; Poe sees man’s internal struggle as madness, while Hawthorne sees man as having a “secret sin.” Each had their reasons for writing in the Gothic format. Poe was not a religious man; he was well educated and favored reading the German Gothic literature, which would become the basis for his own writing. Hawthorne on the other hand, called on his Puritan-Calvinistic background to influence his writing style. Along with his formal education, and his self-imposed solitary time, that he spent reading and observing nature. Poe’s writing allows the reader to observe man’s thoughts and behaviors from within his mind and demonstrates how his behavior influences his surroundings. As opposed to Hawthorne’s writing, where a man’s behavior is affected from outside influences, as such, placing him in settings that will manipulate his emotional and mental behavior in an effort to deliver a moral theme. Each author would write their own version of a Gothic tale that would spin the reader’s imagination into places it might not otherwise go.
The mechanics of Gothic fiction contain two key aspects, the first is allegory, and the second is the use of symbol. Poe and Hawthorne each utilized these two distinct styles of Gothic writing. Poe would favor the use of symbols in his writing while Hawthorne depended strongly on the use of allegory to create his tales. James K. Folsom describes Hawthorne’s use of allegory as “not as a statement of artistic means, in some sense roughly equitable with ‘symbolism,’ but rather as a statement of artistic ends, in some moralistic sense. An allegory for Hawthorne is a moral tale […]” (77). Hawthorne saw his writing in allegorical terms to bring to the reader’s attention concrete realities by way of abstract ideas; he was able to imagine the natural world into an imaginary--supernatural one.
Hawthorne’s natural world influence on his imaginary world began within his home; Donald A. Ringe quotes a passage from Hawthorne’s introduction to The Scarlet Letter:
A coal fire diffuses a “scarcely visible” but “mild, heart-warm influence” throughout the room, while moonlight from the window “produces a very beautiful effect.” […] all the familiar objects of the room “are invested with something like strangeness and remoteness,” as if one were viewing them after the passage of years. […] “such a medium is created that the room seems just fit for the ghosts of persons very dear, who have lived in the room with us […] It would be like a matter of course, to look round, and find some familiar form in one of the chairs” (156).
Hawthorne is absorbed into the natural environment around him...