Heavy Symbolism and the Characterization of the Narrator in Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil and Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado
Both stories, The Minister’s Black Veil, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Cask of Amontillado, written by Edgar Allan Poe, are both known to be examples of gothic horror from the 19th century. While both stories were written within the same time period and are of the same genre, they differ from one another. Writing is so broad, that authors are capable of portraying a certain genre through focusing on different aspects of their writing. Hawthorne’s story concentrates on portraying an overall message with heavy symbolism, whereas Poe’s story is a tale more focused on the characterization of the narrator and his revenge driven journey.
The Minister’s Black Veil is a story that could also be described as a parable. This could be said because Hawthorne has an underlying message within the story that he’s trying to convey to his readers. The overall focus is placed on the Minister, who wears a black veil after he commit an unknown sin. The message that is conveyed here is that people are hypocritical; just because the Minister’s sin is visible by way of the veil, they judge him. However, just because they don’t have a visual representation of their own sins like the Minister, they seemingly have forgotten about them and act as if they are pure. “He could not walk the street with any peace of mind, so conscious was he that the gentle and timid would turn aside to avoid him, and that others would make it a point of hardihood to throw themselves in his way.” In this example, the townspeople are going out of their way to either avoid him or to get in his way, which showcase their judgements. Hawthorne also uses a lot of symbolism in this story, a strong example being the veil that the Minister wears. “If I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enough… and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?” Hawthorne is directly linking the veil with secret sin within this example, showing the symbolism.
While Hawthorne’s story was more centralized towards structure, The Cask of Amontillado strays towards the characterization of the narrator. The narrator of this story is clearly mad, which is portrayed in this example, “The thousand of injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” The fact that the narrator has “borne thousands of injuries” from this Fortunato character, but decided to seek revenge only when he insulted him, depicts his madness. Also, in this example the narrator is using hyperbole; exaggerating the amount of times he’s been “hurt” by Fortunato, which shows that while the character has probably wronged him in the past, he needs to exaggerate in order to feel good about enacting his revenge. Poe also utilizes a great deal of irony in this story. An example would be, “And I to your long life.” which is ironic because here Montresor is drinking to Fortunato’s “long life”, which the readers know won’t be very long at all because of his plot to seek revenge and murder him. The use of this irony further depicts the narrator’s insanity.
Both Hawthorne and Poe wrote similarly in the aspect of genre and time; however, their stories differ drastically. Hawthorne focuses on symbolism and underlying messages within his story, whereas Poe tends to focus more on the characterization of his narrator through the use of tools such as irony and hyperbole. This demonstrates just how broad writing can truly be. Even though both of these stories were written in a similar time period and genre, they still have vast differences.
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