The Cask of Amontillado vs Young Goodman Brown: Compare & Contrast
Given the fact that short stories have only a limited amount of space to relate a cogent storyline, setting and symbolism are tremendously important factors. The author’s mandate is to seize the reader’s attention right away and maintain their interest throughout the unfolding plot. The setting conveys the overall scene, inclusive of the place where the action is taking place and the time when it is occurring. The use of symbolism allows a writer to allude to specific items or occurrences without specifically naming them, adding a layer of subtlety and depth to the tale.
In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allan Poe, one of the true masters of the short story genre, establishes a dark, foreboding tone in the first paragraph. The protagonist has revenge on his mind against someone he believes has continuously slighted him. The reader gets the idea that he is willing to perform a truly dastardly deed to avenge himself on an individual known as Fortunato. Indeed, this is exactly what happens, set up perfectly at the beginning of the story.
An “evil-smelling, one-funneled steamboat” is the initial scene in Jerome K Jerome’s “The Lesson.” The venue establishes a sense of adventure and travel, themes that would continue throughout the piece. The protagonist appears to be an observant young man who is very open to learning new things from his experiences and from his elders. He is therefore the perfect foil for the magnetic personality, in the person of a noted businessman, that he first encounters on the boat. The protagonist’s state of mind throughout the story is one of earnest inquiry, which was amply rewarded as the story reveals itself.
Perhaps William Faulkner’s most famous short work, “A Rose for Emily” symbolized the decay and eventual ‘death’ of the old South after the Civil War. The symbolism is rich, providing many allusions to the noted theme. Faulkner literally embodies old-style Southern customs and tradition in Miss Emily, and her unyielding attempts to stave off the new realities that faced her represented the region’s attempts to hold on to a way of life that was forever past.
In Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yiddish short story “Gimpel the Fool,” the devil was depicted as the ‘Spirit of Evil’ that visited Gimpel, encouraging him to revenge himself upon the townspeople for their constant ill-treatment. Elka, his unfaithful wife, who in death appears to him in dreams and comforts him, surprisingly represented the story’s angelic presence.
The devil in “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is represented by the ‘traveler’ that Brown goes deep into the woods to meet. His young wife, Faith, is called “a blessed angel on earth,” and represents, in the story opening, all that is good and pure.
Devils and angels typically are advocates for the forces of darkness and light, respectively. So it is in the last two short stories. In Gimpel, the devil represents the very human desire for revenge upon those who have wronged an individual. By urging Gimpel to soil the bread that would be eaten by his fellow townspeople, the devil is tapping into an emotion that doubtless existed deep down, even in an individual as forgiving and guileless as the protagonist. To Gimpel himself, the devil was a corrupting, misleading influence; one that almost succeeded in luring him into losing his place in Heaven. For Brown, the devil represented, in a way, the ultimate truth-teller, revealing that the true nature of mankind was evil.
The cultures represented in the stories are widely divergent, from the post-Civil War era South in “A Rose for Emily” to an Eastern European town around the turn of the 20th century in “Gimpel the Fool” to Puritan New England in “Young Goodman Brown.” In “Rose” the relationship between people seemed to be generally a concerned one, though the town seemed to be full of people who continually exchanged gossip. An abusive, bullying character marked the relationship between Gimpel and other members of his town. Whether they acted in like manner towards each other wasn’t explicitly detailed, but one would not be surprised to find that it was so. In the very dark, gloomy “Brown” interpersonal relationships seem to be corrupted by mankind’s intrinsic evil, untrustworthy nature. The revelation, or the appearance thereof, completely ruined Goodman Brown’s positive outlook, and his life as well.
As far as man’s relationship to God, in “Rose” the Southern church tradition is upheld, though it isn’t stressed during the story. In “Gimpel” the concept that deeds in life directly affect one’s place in Heaven (or Hell) was specifically addressed, with Gimpel’s dead wife relating the horrific time she was enduring for having been so false in life. The inference in “Brown” was that man’s intrinsically evil nature did not allow for a positive relationship with God. When Goodman Brown implored his wife to look up to Heaven and resist the ‘wicked one,’ the outcome was not positive, and as already noted his life went downhill after that.
Effective use of symbols and settings, especially in the short story genre, can mean everything in terms of communicating a writer’s message to the reader. All of the noted stories do an excellent job of setting the scene, thus allowing the protagonist and other characters to operate within an understandable framework of events and actions. This literary technique added depth to each of the stories by drawing the reader in, then maintaining interest by providing more details that supported the main thesis.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Forum 30 Apr. 1930.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Mosses from an Old Manse (1835).
Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Godey’s Lady’s Book Nov. (1846).
Singer, Isaac Bashevis. “Gimpel the Fool.” Gimpel the Fool (1956).