The Tone And Mood In The Devil And Tom Walker
The term “literary movement” is used to describe a time period in which authors used similar themes and writing styles to express their ideas in literary and artistic works. As years passed new literary movements emerged with the changing ideals and views of both the authors and readers. One significant era is that of the Dark Romanticism literary movement. The Dark Romanticism era first originated in eighteenth century Europe. However, it was reborn and most prevalent during the nineteenth century in America. Many notable authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Nathineal Hawthorne, and Herman Melville solidified this literary movement with their gloomy and obscure writing styles. Many of these authors used themes that were often thought of as taboo and dark to get their point across. Dark Romanticism is said to have emerged and has contrasting ideals from the authors of the Transcendentalism and Romanticism literary movements. Dark Romanticism was significant because it exposed people to new concepts that were not prevalent during the time. Authors were able to change the views of their audience with their literature and give them a new perspective of the world. They were able to break from the norm and write about dark and pessimistic topics, this is why this movement was so significant and will stand out amongst other literary eras.
Although the style and themes of this literary movement were a bit obscure and gloomy, Dark Romanticism grew to be very popular during the nineteenth century in America. Dark Romanticism resonated to those with a pessimistic perception of the world. Although, literary movements previous had also focused on emotions and self perception, they tended to focus on different aspects of it. Dark Romanticism was quite different from literary eras before it in that authors during that time tended to focus more on the darker aspects of human nature, the likes of which were a new concept at the time. Authors used different ways to keep their audiences invested in their work. They use figurative language such as dark imagery, similes, and metaphors to better communicate to their readers. Literature of this time explored feelings of guilt, sorrow, and fear and the physiological effects these feelings had on an individual. The usage of supernatural concepts were also included in most Dark Romanticism stories. According to the G.R. Thompson, a Washington State University ED, “ Fallen man’s inability fully to comprehend haunting reminders of another, supernatural realm that yet seemed not to exist, the constant perplexity of inexplicable and vastly metaphysical phenomena, a propensity for seemingly perverse or evil moral choices that had no firm or fixed measure or rule… ” This states that the incorporation of supernatural elements into a story would would confuse an already struggling character, they would often come to question their past wrongdoings during this time. Supernatural phenomenon usually represented or were caused by a character’s past guilt and mistakes. This would ultimately force them to come to terms with their conflicting emotions. In many stories there was no retribution for those who committed sin against another, instead most stories ended with the demise of the individual. The tactic of including supernatural elements was also usually used at the climax of a story as it also served as a way to keep readers excited.
To continue, Dark Romantics heavily relied on the usage of realism and often based their stories in life like settings, this way stories would be more impactful to the reader. To do this writers would used extensive symbolism and imagery to help convey an appropriate setting. They would also incorporate fiction by adding supernatural phenomena into their stories as mentioned earlier. Authors would write stories with dark and often depressing themes. In a segment about Dark Romanticism a film titled “Romanticism: Imagining Freedom” produced by Films for Humanities & Sciences, Professor of Literature at Baruch College, David. S Reynolds states that “They [Dark Romantics] were intrigued with the grotesque, the malignant, the horrific, and the fearful, and this inspired a series of works that gave voice to what had been inexpressible and unspoken” This quote solidifies the fact that most writers of this time were infatuated with dark themes, and because of this they were able to bring a new viewpoints in their literature. For example, authors often used the integration of psychology, most commonly insanity, into their works. This because authors preferred to reveal darker nature of human nature and exposed that reaction of individuals who felt extensive grief or guilt. Writers would go in depth in the thought process of their characters and describe their declining mental state due to their emotions. This in their eyes would explain their actions, no matter how overreacted, as the story continues. In retrospect, it can be clearly seen that the movement was freeing for many people at the time, it let their imaginations go wild with the stories. It gave an explanation as to why people react the way they do because of feelings like self condemnation and anguish.
To give a bit of history, Dark Romanticism first emerged during the eighteenth century in Europe. However, it did not come to fruition in America until the nineteenth century. The emergence of Dark Romanticism in America was largely credited to the Transcendentalist literary movement. In a nutshell, Transcendentalism was a literary movement in which authors focused on philosophical, religious, and political means in their writings. Notable Transcendentalists include Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Parker, and Margaret Fuller. Authors of this movement believed in divine spirits, rationality, and equality. Above all, they believed in the goodness of both nature and humans. In opposition, Dark Romanticism focused instead on the worst parts of human nature and would often argue with Transcendentalistic views. In summary, Dark Romantics were influenced by the Transcendentalist, but they disliked that Transcendentalist would only depict good intentions and emotions in their literature. In addition, the Romanticism literary movement also had major influence on Dark Romanticism, however they also had conflicting ideals. While they both believed that intense emotions had major effects over a person and that feelings would always prevail over a person’s intellect, Dark Romanticism exculsivley focused emotions that were caused by sins and misdeeds. One the other hand, Romantics would also convey the importance of good and nature in their literature. While Romantics were often seen as optimists, Dark Romantics were viewed as pessimists. Both Transcendentalism and Romanticism had a major effect on Dark Romanticism, without these literary movements Dark Romanism would not have existed in the first place. Although, they are polar opposites they overall had a major effect on today’s literature and will continue to do so.
The Dark Romanticism era had plenty authors that solidified its stance as a literary movement. Amongst the many of its authors arguably the most prolific and successful one was Edgar Allen Poe. Poe was intrigued with “impulse of the perverse”. He came to write many similar stories with similar themes. This is why he became such a prolific and staple writer for the time.For example in one of Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher” depicts an unnamed narrator who visits his friend’s, Rodrick Usher, house because he and his sister are extremely ill. Although the setting of the deplatitaed House of Usher unsettles the narrator, he decides to stay to accompany his friend. As the story continues Rodricks sister Madiline also gets extremely ill and eventually passes away, devastating her brother. After her secret burial the narrator notices that Rodrick had become hysterical and out of touch with reality ever since the passing of his sister. It is also revealed that he and Madaline were twins and were extremely close to one another. One night, the narrator decided to read Rodrick a book to calm his nerves. He reads him a book named “Mad Thirst”, while he continues reciting the story he notices that he was hearing noises that corresponded to the description of what he was reading. Noticeably upset, Rodrick explains that similar instances have been happening to him and believes that Madeline is to blame. He explains that he thinks they wrongly presumed her dead buried her alive. He assumed that the eerie sounds coming from her trying to escape from her casket underground. Just then a gust of wind opens the door revealing a bloodied Madaline. She attacks Rodrick using the last of her strength and Rodrick dies out of pure fear. Terrified, the narrator escapes as the house falls to the ground. This is a prime example of the dark romanticism genre, and this may be one of the most notable pieces of it. The story is set in a gloomy and dilapidated setting and has a lot to do with feelings of guilt. Rodrick was full of guilt after burying his sister at the wrong time that it caused him to go hysterical. The arrival of Madeline at the end solidifies this as a dark romanticism literature piece because she represents the guilt he felt for wrongly burying her.
Nathinel Hawthorne was another greatly known dark romantic. He worked on several pieces of dark literature, one of his most notable and distinguished short stories being “The Minister’s Black Veil”. To summarize, the story revolves around a strange man named Hooper who always wears a mysterious dark veil that covers his entire face, except his mouth and chin. Hooper works as a minister in the old town of Milford and although is appearance is strange townsfolk are impressed by his preaching skills, so much so that when people pass or get married they as for him to do the ceremony. He is well known for going to people deathbeds and relieving them of their past guilts. There are several instances throughout the story that suggest that Hooper is struggling mentally, such as when he ran off while in the midst of a funeral service because he saw his reflection in the mirror. Many people start to grow weary of him because of his veil, they start to suspect he has committed terrible sins and accused him of being insane. Worried, his fiance Elizabeth addresses this and asks him to remove his veil and show her his face, he refuses and is astonished of Elizabeth’s request. She breaks off the engagement because the has also come to fear the veil, he begs her to stay fails to convince her. He continues preaching and as time goes by, he grows older and falls ill. On his own deathbed Elizabeth, who had still loved him all these years, nurses him. Celergy men soon arrive and ask why he wears the veil and begs for him to remove it, again Hooper refuses, angered by the constant prying. He states that the veil should never be removed and that he can only be condemned when humans are honest with one another. As he dies, he reveals that he sees a black veils across everyone’s faces. After he finally passes they respect his decision and bury him with the veil still across his face. Although quite tame for a Dark Romanticism story it is still considered one. The story has the overall concept of honesty and how Hooper was unable to find it throughout his whole life. It also at one point incorporate the supernatural when the ghost of the lady followed Hooper around. That is what makes this a staple dark romanticism story.
Another renowned author of the Dark Romanticism era is Washington Irving who wrote “The Devil and Tom Walker”. The short story about a man named Tom Walker. He is greedy and lives in a swamp with his short tempered wife. One day while walking home he comes across a skull and begins kicking it around. He then hears a voice scolding him, he turns around to see that it is none other than the devil himself, known as Old Scratch in the story. He says that the land Tom lives on belongs to him and that the one who thinks that they own the land is morally incorrect and he plans to send him to hell. They walk towards Tom’s house together and they talk about Captain Kidd’s secret treasure. Old Scratch makes him a deal, if Tom gives him his soul he would exchange it for the treasure. He says he needs time to ponder the offer and in return Old Scratch leaves a fingerprint across Tom’s forehead. He returns home, and his wife informs him that the man they were talking about earlier was dead. This solidifies Tom’s story and he tells his wife about Old Scratch’s offer. She tries to convince him to agree to the deal, but Tom refuses. She gets angry and decides to take on the deal herself. She charges to where Tom found Old Scratch and attempts to do just that, she returns later that night defeated. She tries a second time she tries to attack Old Scratch with silver lying around the house and ultimately meets her demise. Tom saddened by the loss of his silver, he finally decides to take old Scratcher up on his offer. Several days passed of him trying to get into contact with him with no avail. When he finally finds him they strike up an offer, Old Scratcher now adding new conditions to their deal. He is to become a slave trader and invest in real estate. eventually abuses his power and uses get rich quick scheme. When he finally grows old the devil finally comes to get him, and all his wealth turns to invaluable objects and goes up with flames. His story shows what greed can do to a person. In classic Dark Romanticism style it incorporates the devil into the story and uses him that greed can lead to a person’s demise. Throughout the story we are shown that Tom is a greedy, so much so that he trades in his soul for wealth. As he grew older he changes his views. Unfortunately, it is too late and at the end of the story the devil finally collects his soul. This is a prime example of a Dark Romanticism story.
These stories overall helped establish the Dark Romanticism literary era. Although authors may seem to have a very gloomy point of view of the world without it Without the Dark Romanticism literary era much of the modern day horror genre would not be the same. When it was first introduced it was In a way it is liberating and freeing to people at the time. The reason it made such a big impact is because of the amount of imagination that was included into each piece of art.
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