Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne use their power of imagination and fabulous skills of writing to project the sinister and the dark side of human nature asserting that if morality preaches that goodness is inherent then evil also resides within every individual. Both the prose follows the cliché i.e. every saint is a sinner and every sinner a saint because without the other it is not humanly possible to retain the balance of this world.
It is observed that both stories share some common yet different themes, symbols, and imagery.
Some of the common themes observed in both stories include the theme of fear, an inherent evil, and the theme of madness. In Young Goodman Brown it is observed that Hawthorne deals with Goodman Brown’s fear of tarnishing himself with evil as he says in the story, “We have been a race of honest men and good Christians…shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept” (25)? Later when he realizes that every person whom he had held as the figure of purity and holy sanctity was actually a worshipper of the Devil germinates another form of fear in him due to which he is unable to trust anyone; not even his wife Faith. As it is mentioned, “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream” (34). It is remarked upon in The Fall of House of Usher about Usher’s fears that “To an anomalous species of terror…I found him a bounden slave. Usher tries to explain to the Narrator that he dreads “the events of the future, not in themselves but in their results.” (10). Hence Poe deals with the theme of fear in the form of fear of the unknown. The theme of inherent evil is apparent in all the characters of Yong Goodman Brown other than Goodman himself because all the others are actually worshippers of the Devil on the inside while they keep up the pretense of being devout Christians and believers of God. On contrary, in Poe’s prose inherent evil can be perceived in Roland’s premature burial of her alive sister where he tries to act as God and for the reasons known only to himself attempts at ending her life as he says, “We have put her living in the tomb!” (18). The theme of madness in the case of Poe’s short story is apparent again in Roland’s case as it is stated that Usher “entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his malady” (14). This inconsistent state of Roland depicts madness because for him reality is blurred and the line between sanity and insanity is perilously crossed. While in the other text Goodman’s inability of being able to decipher reality and the dream can also be interpreted as a form of madness as he says, “alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown…then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers….he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away” (18-19).
Some of the major symbols incorporated by the authors in the two stories include the symbol of a forest, the House of Usher and the storm. The symbol of forest and the degenerating house have a similar meaning in the two texts as they denote the approaching unraveling of a mystery for both the protagonists of the short stories. Galloway and Whitley also state, “a comparison of Hawthorne’s treatment of the forest in Yong Goodman Brown…and the gloomy mansion in Poe’s Te Fall of House of Usher reveals how they share a predilection for imaginative, symbolic use of setting indeed how the short story itself becomes a metaphor for the widest human experience” (5). Another common symbol that is shared in both the prose is the storm which symbolizes the turbulent state of the protagonists as well as the unveiling of the whole mystery. It also signifies the height of grief of the two protagonists for the suffering of their loved ones and their inability to neither accept their situation nor being able to struggle to change it.
Both the writers make use of morbid imagery in their prose and the major imagery is the imagery of darkness that is common in the climax of both the stories. The darkness helps in explicitly depicting the fact that every individual has a germ of evil in him. Hence the imagery of darkness serves in fulfilling the writers’ intention of reiterating that evil is inherent which is supported by the sinister elements reflected in the setting.
Although the two short stories are observed to be sharing some of the common themes, symbols and imagery yet regardless of these similarities both the authors retain their individual style of writing which highlights the uniqueness of their style of creating Gothic fiction as both deal with the genre of mystery and incorporate the elements of Gothic fiction in their own distinctive manner.
Galloway, David, and Whitley, John. Ten Modern American Short Stories. London:
Methuen Educational Ltd., 1968. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories. New York:
Courier Dover Publication, 1992. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan, Marler, Regina, and Marlowe, Stephen. The Fall of House of Usher
And Other Tales. New York: Signet Classics, 2006. Print.