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The Human Condition: Poe's Depiction of Our Subconscious

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The Human Condition: Poe's Depiction of Our Subconscious

Could it be said that the dark and gloomy pieces in English literature are really profound expressions of the human condition? Edgar Allan Poe, author of many literature works, including poems and short stories, for which he is renowned, are all, somehow, tied into depicting the human condition, particularly negative traits. Three of Poe’s works, “The Black Cat”, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” can be consulted because all three are consistent in illustrating the same weaknesses of the human condition, forcing people to examine these in themselves. These weaknesses of the human condition are guilt, anger and revenge.

The element of guilt is a terrible psychological struggle, where one feels regretful, overwhelmed and uncertain. Poe integrates this element into these works because it is a condition that all humans can relate to. As in “The Black Cat”, the offender attacks the cat in an alcoholic fit of violence, and describes the progress of his feelings and guilt, felt just the following day: “I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS.” (Poe, 232). The cat’s owner is surely horrified by the act that he commits and is haunted by a series of remorseful sentiments, particularly guilt. He realizes that the cat, a pet with whom he shared a good relationship, is decapitated in one eye, undeservingly at his hand, and for that his conscience is tortured for breaking his sober moral code. As in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the offender continually attempts to convince himself that he is triumphant and not to feel guilty, however, the guilt builds within him slowly, until the story’s climax, where he can no longer subdue his guilty conscience, and confesses to the act: “But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now --again! --hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!” (Poe, 197). As anyone can see, guilt is a very common and yet cruel human condition that sometimes does not allow one to rest. Furthermore, guilt can result in one’s conscious-sane side to be overthrown by the taunting of subconsciously controlled emotion; ex: guilt.

Revenge is another human trait, illustrated by Poe in many of his works. Revenge is the natural human emotion where one feels the need to retaliate against someone who has offended them. As in “The Cask of Amontillado”, the Fortunado continuously disrespects the narrator, and so the narrator decides finally that enough is enough: “THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge…I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.” (Poe, 88). The narrator in this case explains his reasons for doing this; to end the infernal taunting and to neutralize the wrongs done to him. As in “The Black Cat” a reader could say that the cat is revengeful towards its owner because of the abuse. Just as the owner believes he will no longer be suspected for any foul play, the cat avenges its cruel owner: “For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the

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