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Nathaniel Hawthorne And Edgar Allan Poe's Use Of Guilt In Their Work

1397 words - 6 pages

"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 offers the water, he warns them not to repeat the same past mistakes they made before. ?Think what a sin and shame it would be, if, with your peculiar advantages, you should not become patterns of virtue and wisdom to all the young people of the age? (Hawthorne 6). However despite his warning, his friends did not change their old habits when they drank the water. Instead, when his friends turn young again, they initiate doing the same mistakes that they made in the past. At the end, when his friends are back to old adults, they are even guiltier than before because they committed the same mistakes, regrets, and things that they are guilty of in the past. Due to his friends? lack of initiation to change, Heidegger chose not to drink the water because it will further add up to his guilty conscience. He is the only one, out of all the participants, that learns to appreciate the advantage of age and comprehends the knowledge that came from age and experience. ??For my own part, having had much trouble in growing old, I am in no hurry to grow young again...? (Hawthorne 5). Heidegger sees the effects of the water as disheartening because it brings about more guilt and regrets than before. He rather lives his life out the way...

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