The Power Of Sympathy Essay

1021 words - 4 pages

In the novel, The Power of Sympathy by William Hill Brown, there is a contrast between the opposing ideas of sentiment and reason. Characters in the text play to this underlying contrast and are affected by the polar ideas, ultimately resulting in the taking of their own lives. These acts of suicide results from a detachment, or ignorance, of reason. When overcome by emotional misery of sentiment, reason may, for however long a period, become lost or inferior to overbearing ideas of sentimental thoughts directed toward one's death. Bearing the pain of one's own reason leads one to direct their actions by means of sentimental reasoning.
The story of Ophelia, as told by Harriot, depicts the reasonable daughter of Shepard becoming lost to the sentimental thoughts of suicide. While rationally stating her argument to her father, she claims to be speaking with the intention to “demonstrate the sincerity of her repentance” (39) and regain the peace that was once within her home. She recognized that she was wrong in her action, claiming that “All...are not blest with the like happiness of resisting temptation” (39) and she wished to display her sincerity with this confession. The transition from reasonable to melancholy occurs when her father rejects the notion of Ophelia's confession, her “sensibility became more exquisite” (39) indicating that her sensibility came from the attempt to make things right with her family; however, the attempt failed and she lost her rational thought. The emotional part of Ophelia became stronger as her repentance was rejected; reason had failed her, her family was not influenced by her words. There is a drastic leap to conduct that “bordered upon insanity” (40), a lack of sane and rational thought that could otherwise defer the events to come. The sudden change from a rational argument to emotional distress drove Ophelia to kill herself by means of poison, an action evoked by the lack of sanity and influence of distress.
Harriot, in her final letter to Harrington, is pondering whether she should “any longer wonder at this irresistible impulse” (87) of affection she has toward her brother. She is unsure of whether she should consider their relationship, but this confusion does not last long. She is influenced by her feelings when she tries to conceive an answer. She is overtaken be emotion, she begins to “relapse into weakness and tenderness, and become a prey to warring passions” (87). In the next passage, Harriot seems to be addressing nature's effect over reason, “when nature pleads, how feeble is the voice of Reason” (88)? This may seem to indicate that Harriot feels reason is impossible, concluding that sentiment is the only answer, but as the passage continues this is clarified. “Yet, when Reason is heard in her turn, how criminal appears every wish of my heart” (88). She is divulging her inner struggle, she can not bear the pain of her reasoning, she can not suffer in patience. As Ophelia, Harriot...

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