Edgar Allan Poe is considered a major figure when it comes to literature; mostly through his poems, short stories, and various works of fiction. His works depict artistic imagination especially when it comes to the rationality of man (Szabo & Crisan 1). The theme of otherness in literature can be viewed as the aspect of being different from what is considered normal. Normal, in this case, put into view certain expectations or rather aspects that do not deviate from the social norm. Otherness, in the works by Edgar Allan Poe, is illustrated by the gothic style integrated in most of his works. He is known for developing gothic fictions in literature (Sun 94). The analysis puts into view the theme of otherness with respect to the literary works, William Wilson and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.
William Wilson by Poe depicts the otherness theme through the character of the main protagonist, Wilson. William Wilson is different from the normal expectations of man’s behavior through his dual nature. He abides by both reality and illusion, especially after his institutionalization. While institutionalized, Wilson develops an alter ego, which he identifies using his own name, which subjects him to schizophrenic experiences (Kao 2). He becomes confined in the institution through which the allusions limit him from understanding his surroundings. The illusions associated with the development of the alter ego challenge him to struggle to acquire free will. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Wilson is not confined or controlled by the institution but rather by his own mind (Kao 2). The academy, as per his case, becomes the external force that oppresses his free will. Being the perceived external force, Wilson focuses to overwhelm it in his pursuit for free will. Wilson states, “at an age when few children have abandoned their leading-strings, [he] was left to the guidance of [his] own will, and became, in all but name, the master of [his] own actions” (Poe) to illustrate the victimization imposed on him by the academy. The mental pursuit of his free will is illustrated by the statement, “The next morning I began a hurried journey away from Oxford University. I ran, but I could not escape. I went from city to city, and in each one Wilson appeared.” From his description, the institution is endless and entails complex divisions. Besides the academy’s complex nature, Wilson also views his free will to be limited by the teacher who imposes complex rules in the entire institution (Kao 3). The teacher is positioned at various levels that include being the school’s administrator, a pastor apart from the teacher. Wilson exhibits fear when he views the teacher both in school and in church. It is important to note that his mental deterioration commences immediately after he becomes part of the institution as his experience is different when compared to pre-school life. However, through the struggle to acquire freedom from the academy and the teacher, the mental struggle results in his self-destruction. At the end of the story, he states, “And, in my death— see by this face, which is your own, how wholly, how completely, you have killed — yourself!” (Poe). The statement does not possibly imply an actual death but may also signify Wilson’s complete mental incapacitation (Kao 5). Therefore, through the mental struggle between reality and illusion Poe illustrates the theme of otherness through Wilson’s character.
Otherness, in The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe is illustrated by the madness of the narrator. The story is narrated using the first person which makes it easier for the reader to comprehend the protagonist’s elusive thoughts. His dark thoughts differ from the norm especially since he appears to be disturbed by illogical elements (Amir 596). His awkward behaviour is illustrated with his claim that he is of sound mind rather than mad, the idea that he is disturbed by a sound that keeps elevating. On his stance that he was not mentally incapacitated, he perceives that his sickness developed his senses, thought-processes and emotions including a strong hearing ability. He states, “The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute,” (Poe 1). It is from his assumed “strong” senses that he is pushed to believe that one of the eyes of the old man has to be eliminated. He perceives that he had no problem with the old man apart from his eye. He states, “Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.” In other words, it is his indifferent senses that push him to commit murder. It is from the statement that the reader ascertains that the narrator is mentally incapacitated (Amir 597). Also, the narrator appears to be thrilled about how he managed to carry out the murder; an aspect that deviates from the societal norm when it comes to valuing life. He states, “Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in!” Apart from the eye, he believes that the sounds that he keeps on hearing emanate from the old man’s heart. This happens on the last day of his attempt to kill the old man when he hears the heartbeat with the view that the sound from it keeps on elevating. Furthermore, he believes that the sound could be heard by the neighbours. To put an end to the sound, he pounces at the old man and kills him. When police arrived at his home after receiving a call from the neighbour about some disturbance emanating from his house, he calmly takes the police around the house. However, he begins to hear the sound again. He attempts to ignore it by moving his chair but is unable to control it. By then, he becomes convinced that the police are aware of his deed and thus confesses about his crime. He states, “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). The most possible assumption is that the narrator is struggling with guilt and attempting to justify his actions using illusions (Amir 598). Otherness, in this case, is illustrated by his state of mind whereby he fails to distinguish between reality and illusions.
As mentioned earlier, the analysis puts into view the theme of otherness with respect to the literary works, William Wilson and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. Otherness is perceived as an aspect of being different from what is considered as normal Otherness, in William Wilson, is illustrated by the mental struggle between reality and illusion by the protagonist which later leads to his self-destruction. Otherness in The Tell-Tale Heart is illustrated by the narrator’s state of mind which eventually results in his evil deed and self-destruction.
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