Gothic literature originated in the early nineteenth century. Writers of such works combined some elements of the medieval literature considered too fanciful and modern literature classified as too limited to realism. The settings reflected elements of horror and fear. They consisted of gloomy dungeons, underground passages, abundant usage of ghosts, and mysterious occurrences.
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The relations reflected the extreme opposites such as life and death, dream and reality, right and wrong, and rationality and madness. The main aim of gothic literature was to evoke chilling terror by use of cruelty, mystery, and a combination of horror scenes. Gothic literature now includes works of fictions, which do not have medieval settings but create a worrisome atmosphere of terror in representing macabre or melodramatic violence.
Allan Edgar Poe short story, The Pit and the Pendulum, shows horrors associated with torture. Mental and physical torture are horrifying human experiences. The story also shows the cruelty and injustice people experience when they deviate from the established beliefs or when wrongly accused. The choice of settings as “THE PIT, typical of hell………. the Ultima Thule of all their punishments” (Poe 1989), shows the pervading elements of gothic literature.
Words, phrases, and imagery contribute to the effect of terror with morbidity and the expected horrifying death e.g. “Down — certainly, relentlessly down! It vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently – furiously” and use of images like “Figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with skeleton forms, and other more really fearful images” (Poe 1989) create terrifying horror scenes.
Poe captures the use of explicit violence as a condemnation of the Inquisition. Poe shows confusion in the narrator’s mind as a “call to mind flatness and dampness; and then all is MADNESS — the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden things” (Poe 1989). Readers do not know whether the narrator is guilty or not. Poe leaves the moral judgment to his readers as he shows hope in rescue of the narrator.
The Cask of Amontillado by Poe shows terror as a means of punishing offenders. We do not see any evidence that Fortunato inflicted thousands of injuries and insults to Montresor. The short story demonstrates a human tendency in avenging wrong-doings. He foreshadows death in putting on a mask of black silk.
The concealed murder is a means to avoid the legal procedure for justice. Poe captures elements of death as follow “It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibration of the chain” (Poe 1846).
The description of the setting alludes to scary and horrifying scenes such as “walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead” and “I bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase” (Poe 1846). The images of “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” present scary elements of gothic works (Poe 1846). Poe leaves the moral judgment about revenge to the readers.
Poe’s two short stories bear all the elements of horrifying and chilling gothic literature. The use of imagery and descriptions of the settings make the reader identify with the sufferings people go through in the name of seeking justice. In The Pit and the Pendulum, Poe does not prove the evidence of wrongdoings of the narrator.
Likewise, in The Cask of Amontillado, he fails to show us evidence that Fortunato inflicted injuries and insults to Montresor. Poe shows that all forms of retributions, either through a legal system or personal vendetta, are the worst form of horror people can experience. This is a case of blind justice and blind revenge.