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Darkness in Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and Dickinson Essay

E. A. Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and E. Dickinson’s works contain similar elements and images which can be related to the theme of darkness. These authors used these motives as their main subject throughout their works. Some of them led very gloomy and dark life so they used those experiences to utter their feelings by putting them on the paper. These poems and works can come across as kind of morbid at first sight so they will be thoroughly explained in the further text. E. A. Poe was labelled as immoral, crazy and depressive by his contemporaries partly because of his most famous poem “The Raven”.

Many of them considered Poe’s behaviour insane when actually he was just a version of Romantic period moody hero like Byron, Keats and Shelly, yet today those “insane” people are called artists. His works were marked as spooky, spine-tingling and most importantly dark. Furthermore, a solid comparison can be made between 19th century horror writer Poe and 21th century horror writer Stephen King. Although centuries have passed the motif of darkness stays present. The Raven is a poem filled with dark, lonely and melancholic symbols.

One of them to begin with is Gothic setting of the poem. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”. “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;/ And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. ” It’s almost like today’s readers can see in films. One can picture a small cabin deep in the woods on a cold December night with nothing but one candle and a man like shadow which can be seen through the window.

Nevertheless, it is a perfect prelude to a horror movie or in this case to a horror poem. In addition to dark setting there is a dark protagonist, a young man suffering a great amount of pain, more precisely loss of a loved woman. Any human would start to question himself and talk to himself as he did in all of that loneliness and misery, but the only reply he got from the raven is “Nevermore”. That word is pretty devastating for the man on the edge. The Raven itself is a bad omen, dark one since it gives volume to a dark, spooky, ghostly atmosphere.

His black feathers are traditionally considered to be a magic sign of something evil, rotten and ill. For the tone Poe is looking for, the raven is perfectly suitable bird. It looks just like the night it came out of. Yet again the night is another motif in poem which is entirely dark in physical and psychological sense. Night represents mysterious and slightly dangerous power of nature and it fits perfectly in the poem. Poe does not choose to write a horror of a sunny afternoon’s setting. One of the first things one can notice while reading The Scarlet Letter is enormous amount of hypocrisy.

The society itself is hypocritical, nothing is white or black, people lie and everyone wears a mask, so that can be interpreted as dark motif. There are many examples of collision of light and darkness throughout the novel. Light is used to describe and emphasize good qualities of a human within or present state of emotions. And on the other hand, dark is obviously opposite of that. For example there is a scene when Pearl turns her head away from bright sunlight after stepping out in her mother’s arms from the dark, gloomy prison.

This shows the contrast between light and dark and also evokes pity for the baby and her mother’s imprisonment. “She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison. ” There is another example of light and dark in Hester’s description of Chillingsworth. She describes him as a devil-like figure with a black soul and eyes burning red like fire.

Light and darkness represent change of behaviour and personality in a character and this is one of the best examples of that change. Chillingsworth becomes literally and figuratively dark and continues tormenting Dimmesdale. The forest in the novel is described as dark several times especially in comparison with the town. Everything happening outside of the town is considered to be dark which means sinful. For example, Hester who is a sinner in the eyes of society lives on the outskirts of town in the woods. Society dismissed her and marked her as an outcast.

The fact she is living on a border of town and forest shows how certain people thought of her in certain situations. During the night she found refuge in the woods with Dimmesdale and during the day she was a sinner in the eyes of society in the town. The forest was seen as the place of evil by townsmen because it was unknown and mysterious. The wilderness of the forest is compared with the Hester’s moral wilderness. “She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest. In Bartleby the Scrivener by Melville one can use doubling as a dark motif.

The first example of doubles is Nippers and Turkey. They act like one person which is shown in the way they live their lives. Turkey is off in the morning because of the alcohol he drank the night before and Nippers is off in the afternoon because of his indigestion due to the lunch he had not so long before. They act like two faces of a coin. The second example and most important one is Bartleby. Melville is evoking him as a kind of phantom double.

Descriptions of him represent him as either ghostly or a corpse, “cadaverous”. His indifference toward anything makes The Lawyer feel guilty and the act of understanding and helping Bartleby is just a way of satisfying his conscience. Isolation is also a dark motif in Bartleby the Scrivener. During the day Bartleby stares at the window facing the wall and during the night he sleeps in his office. In fact, this is a perfect picture of Wall Street and people who were really emotionally imprisoned because of their work.

The last author to be explained is Emily Dickinson. She was beyond her time, left all alone in her world with nobody there to understand her. Her life was lonely and that, among all else, resulted in two nervous breakdowns. The poetry she wrote was full of dark and mysterious motives. One of her many poems called “I’m Nobody, who are you? ” can explain the core of Dickinson. Although this poem has element of comic sense to it, it’s not quite as comical as it seems. Here Dickinson has a light tone, childish voice and she invites reader to come to her dark side.

The main thesis in this poem is the loss of identity and personality. „I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too? / Then there’s a pair of us! / Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know! “ She is explaining that there is a pair of them, nobodies and outsiders. The speaker fears to reveal their identity because they will not be anonymous free-thinking “nobodies” that they have chosen to be. It is not arguable that all of these authors were lonely and filled with pain due to certain tragedies but some of them felt it more than others.

If every aspect of their lives is taken in consideration one should give a gold medal in darkness and despair to Poe and Dickinson. Nevertheless, all of them were human with real human emotions and their way of coping with pain was by writing it on a piece of paper. No matter how morbid and depressing these works are, they are works of art. It is important to remember how difficult it is to share your emotions publically and let every individual to interpret it in its own way, maybe even comparing it to its own life experiences. That is the beauty of it.


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