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What Are the Similarities and Contrasts of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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Literature Comparisons Between Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne

Kimberley Prescott


Sherry Salant

Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne

Popular literature is incomplete without the names of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Both of these authors lived in the same time period, yet lived very opposite lives. In fact, Poe received notoriety for criticizing Nathaniel Hawthorne. (Poe, 1847) In his career, he wrote several critiques of Hawthorne’s work. On a personal level, Poe often disagreed with how often Hawthorne used allegory. As a literary element that many people use, Poe was not a fan. He once stated that: “I allude to the strain of allegory which completely overwhelms the greater number of his subjects, and which in some measure interferes with the direct conduct of absolutely all.” (Poe, 1847) It seems as though Poe regarded Hawthorne’s work as works of allegory. To say that this was the only literary element he employed, however, would be false. Throughout history, authors have endeavoured to master other forms of literary elements, to become the master of those elements, and equal to none in them. By comparing “The Cask of Amontillado” with “Young Goodman Brown”, is to study two masters, at odds with their specific forms of writing, but each a master in his own right. Each story shows how two people that can be so far apart on a scale, can use the same literary elements in similar and different ways without compromising their work as a whole.
Foreshadowing is vital in the world of literature. Foreshadowing is always about being subtle. How can an author slip in a clue or help build a story to a dramatic, yet unforeseen conclusion? Foreshadowing in the hands of a master seems to be a piece of elegance and can be so subtle that the reader wonders how he or she missed it to begin with. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, Poe is quite verbose. Even before the foreshadowing begins, Poe goes to great lengths to explain how strong his anger is toward Montressor. (Poe, pg. 217) This can be the first bit of foreshadowing. He is showing his “weakness” by showing his anger. As the story progresses, Poe, in the form of Montressor, begins to exhibit classic foreshadowing hints. For instance, when he hears of Fortunato’s cough, he begs him not to go down into the cellar due to the nitre. (Poe, Pg. 218) His manner of addressing him appeals to Fortunato’s ego and he will not miss out on the opportunity to identify the rare wine and let someone less skilled do it instead. If this was just the first point, it could be called a coincident. However, as they wind further into the vaults, this happens many times. Each time, Montressor can be seen to give a token of rejection, but ultimately letting himself be talked into leading Fortunato further. It seems at each turn, when confronted with a chance that Fortunato could use to escape, he lets himself be led further down the hall to his failure. Hawthorne also uses foreshadowing in his writing. To what degree, many people differ. The clearest example of foreshadowing takes place in the first page of the story. In the second paragraph, Hawthorne describes how Faith, with pink bows streaming in the air, is begging her husband to stay with her that night and that she is “afeared”. All of this seems to foreshadow many dark things. The most obvious is that his wife, Faith, is terrified to be alone and is afraid something will happen to her. The tone that Faith’s speech sets is one of foreboding and that something might happen if he were to stay out that night. This is later to be proven as Hawthorne hears Faith being presented as a proselyte at the black mass that night. (Hawthorne, 1835) After the parting with his wife, Brown makes several internal comments on how the evil of the night would be a death to her. He continues on to say that this night is a night of evil in which he wants to save her from. (Hawthorne, 1835) Nathaniel Hawthorne uses these pieces of foreshadowing to give a small bit of foreboding to the reader, where Edgar Allan Poe relies on that foreshadowing to build the terror that is his entire story. Where the two authors are utilizing the same literary element, the presentation is remarkably different and produces a different feel in each story.
Irony is usually termed as a technique or way or presenting a topic with one meaning, not disclosing to the reader that a totally different thing has happened. For instance, one might say it is ironic to save up the money to buy your dream car and it sells minutes before you get there. In the mind of someone like Edgar Allan Poe, irony can take one a far deeper meaning. One piece of irony is the name of the victim, Fortunato. This is an Italian word suggesting good fortune. (Cummings, 2005) However, we know from the beginning of the story that his fortune is not good. The more one looks for it, sometimes the more minute the irony can be. Take the description of Fortunato: “The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-stripped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” - Edgar Allan Poe
This is the man that has so enraged Montressor and is now going to his death, not only willingly, but dressed as a fool of the time. (Lorcher, 2011) Personally, one of the most masterful ironies in this piece, was the conversation about the Masons. Fortunato makes a sign that symbolizes the Masons (Known as the Free Masons). When Fortunato asks Montressor if he is a mason, Montressor pulls out a trowel like bricklayers use. He ends up using that very trowel to trap Fortunato behind a fresh wall of Masonry. What better irony is there than that? When looking into irony in “Young Goodman Brown”, it is a bit tougher. One example is the same as what Poe did. The main characters are named “Goodman”, and “Faith”; yet this is a story of evil. (Hawthorne, pg.80) Poe did the same by naming the murder victim Fortunato. However, the biggest irony is the story itself. Although Young Goodman Brown is usually considered an act of allegory, irony is a vital element to create the allegorical story. During the tale, Young Goodman Brown has taken a journey through a dark wood. Upon meeting a stranger who tries to tempt his faith, Young Goodman Brown refuses to go further. Even though Young Goodman Brown believes he has resisted the devil, he has still committed the sin of being tempted. The irony is further revealed as even the reverend and deacon pass by. The irony is best illustrated by this passage: “”Of the two, reverend sir,” said the voice like the deacon’s,”I had rather miss an ordination dinner than to-night’s meeting.”” - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Now Young Goodman Brown sees clearly that the people he thought to be so pious weren’t. Where this proves the allegorical point, it is also an irony that Young Goodman Brown had been trying to live his life right, being guided by these very men. (Lorcher, 2012) Irony is subjective. Although there is a definition for it, critics will eternally debate if a particular example is ironic or not. That being said, Hawthorne and Poe were experts with the written word, and truly coaxed every nuance they could out of irony.
While all authors write to communicate a point, not every author uses symbolism to illustrate his/her point. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, the title alone can be pointed out to be a bit of symbolism. A cask means a wine barrel, but it is derived from the same root word used to form casket. (Cummings, 2005) The end of the story entombs the unfortunate Fortunato. Once Montressor gets Fortunato to his palazzo, Fortunato sees Montressors crest and asks what his family motto is. The family motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit” which means nobody harms me without being punished. This can be seen as symbolism toward Montressor’s revenge against Fortunato, although we are never given a reason. (Lorcher, 2011) Poe creates a symbolic story that illustrates the delusional insanity of a man and the depths he goes to with no sense of being morally wrong. In Young Goodman Brown is rife with symbolism. From the beginning of the story, we are presented with characters that have names that are the very symbols of the story. Young Goodman Brown is seen as a God-fearing man, strong in his belief. His wife, Faith, is the also a physical representation of his belief. (Lorcher, 2011) The stage is set for the classic good-vs-evil showdown. Young Goodman Brown leaves his wife (his Faith), to take a journey that he believes is too dire for her. He proceeds into the very symbol of darkness: “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through; and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is a peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveler knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead…” - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne sets up the perfect setting for a meeting at the crossroads with the devil. Young Goodman Brown even proclaims that anyone could be standing at his very elbow. This shows us that the scene is being set up as a symbol for evil, with the devil right at home. As the story progresses, the chaotic night turns into a night of horror and torment, where his Faith is striped from him, literally and ideologically. (Maher) This is the same type of story that Edgar Allan Poe so criticized Hawthorne over. Poe thought that the use of allegory was overwhelming. (Poe, 1847)
Comparing these great authors is a task that could take a lifetime. The examples are numerous and the arguments endless. One could take up a staunch defense of either side and have ample ammunition. However, the sheer magnitude of work from both author’s illustrate a far better command of literary elements than some more modern authors. Edgar Alan Poe was a renown dark author. Nathaniel Hawthorne was renown for his religious works. Two authors of opposite styles both show a mastery of the written word to which they twist and wind into our hearts and minds forever.

Cummings, Michael J. “The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) A Study Guide” 2005 Retrieved from
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Mosses from an Old Manse and Other Stories” 1996 Retrieved from http://www/
Lorcher, Trent. “Symbolism and Irony in “The Cask of Amontiallado” 2011 Retrieved from
Lorcher, Trent. “Young Goodman Brown Study Guide” 2012 Retrieved from
Maher, Jimmy. Symbolism and Theme is “The Young Goodman Brown” (year unk) Retrieved from
Poe, E. A. (1846). The Cask of Amontillado. Retrieved from
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Literature:Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed Luarie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. Boston:Thompson Heinle, 2004. 217-222
Poe, E. A. (1847). Tale-Writing – Nathaniel Hawthorne. Retrieved from
Poe, E. A. (1846). The Cask of Amontillado. Retrieved from

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