The texts under comparison are “The cask of Amontillado” by E. A. Poe and “Young Goodman Brown” by N. Hawthorne. Both stories are about characters, which represent the human’s eternal inclination towards evil. Evil deeds are inherent in nature of human beings and only strong will can control these urges. In both stories, we shall see that the main characters give in to evil in their hearts rather than oppose it.
In the story “The Cask of Amontillado” the action takes place in 18th century Italy. The main conflict is resolved between noblemen Montresor and Fortunato. Montresor is a man of vicious temper, what we can infer from the motto on his device: “No one insults me with impunity”. His story with Fortunato is long and painful one. He claims that Fortunato did him wrongs many times, but he was thus far silent. But now Fortunato had surpassed all measure of Montresor’s patience and he decides to get revenge. But his revenge must be a devious one: the victim must know who brought revenge upon his head and the avenger must get away with his crime. Thus and only thus, as Montresor thinks, his revenge can be complete. The contrast between the place and time of meeting of the two “friends” and the criminal intention of Montresor is striking: “It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend” (Poe). Fortunato is dressed in motley and drunk. He doesn’t suspect what grim fate awaits him. The villain uses the cask of amontillado to lure his victim into the dungeon (Fortunato prouds himself on being an expert in wine). He devised the most hideous way to execute his revenge – Montresor immures Fortunato into the wall of a crypt under his palace. All this time the emotional tension is rising, and when fortunate is finally chained to a wall and Montresor starts to immure him, brick by brick, while the tension is surmounting even more. Fortunato is not sure to the end if his friend is only joking grimly: “”Ha! ha! ha! – he! he! – a very good joke indeed – an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo – he! he! he! – over our wine – he! he! he!”” (Poe). When he indeed realizes the dire truth, he is sobered up in an instant, but his cries and wailing are as naught for Montresor. The story is finished in dreadfully ironic words: In pace requiescat! (Rest in peace!).
We may say, that Montresor’s actions can be in a way justified with the idea of revenge for a “thousand injuries”, which Fortunato inflicted him. But is there any sort of injury that can be paid for with such a dire vengeance? In our view, the revenge of Montresor is not justified (we are not given a sufficient explanation in the course of the story). He is just giving in to the evil nature of his heart; he seems even to be pleased at what he had done (as it can be inferred from a final sentence of the story).
In the story “Young Goodman Brown” we are given another sort of miscreant. Goodman Brown, as his name suggests, is a good young man. But at the same time he is too concerned about looking good and decent to his fellow-villagers, whom he puts above himself in virtue. He thinks to much about what others will think of him and of his actions. In addition to that he has no will of his own, this tendency of his character, combined with his curiosity cause his downfall. N. Hawtorne elaborates the idea that essentially all humans are evil. This idea is stated explicitly in the word of the Devil: “By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin ye shall scent out all the places – whether in church, bedchamber, street, field, or forest – where crime has been committed, and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood spot” (Hawtorne). Because Goodman is curious of what is happening in the forest at night, he decides to takes the Devils offer and venture into the woods. We must remember that from the point of Hawtorne’s time Puritan morality the forest was an indecent place for an idle walk. Not without reason, Goodman says: “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians…” (Hawtorne). The forest was a place for Indians, not for decent Puritan. But as his own virtue depends on others (“Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream”) he was an easy prey for the Devil. The Devil reveals to Goodman the true sinful nature of his fellow-villagers. After that, upon his return home, Goodman feels he cannot trust anyone, even his dear wife Faith, whose virtue seems now nothing but a ruse.
As it appears in life, as well as in fiction, evil is in human nature. Man can fall under evil influence by his own will, like Montresor from “The cask of Amontillado”, or due to his curiosity, like Goodman Brown from “Young Goodman Brown”. We must strive not to fall under its influence, whether on our own accord or taking revenge for the wrongs done to us by others.
Poe, E. A. The Cask of Amontillado. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.
Hawtorne, N. Young Goodman Brown. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.