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An analytical study of 'The Pit and The Pendulum', 'An Encounter' and 'The Pedestrian', focusing on the themes of paralysis, entrapment and isolation

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An analytical study of 'The Pit and The Pendulum', 'An Encounter' and 'The Pedestrian', focusing on the themes of paralysis, entrapment and isolation The texts chosen for this study are: 'The Pit and The Pendulum' by Edgar Allan Poe and 'An Encounter' by James Joyce which, I feel, are appropriate as they provide comprehensive coverage of the themes analysed whilst managing to cover a historical period of some seventy years1. Poe's piece is a dark, Gothic work which deals, in great depth, with the notion of both mental and physical paralysis encompassed in an entrapping and isolated atmosphere. Joyce, on the other hand, takes a characteristically more diverse and subtle approach to the concept of paralysis, cunningly concealing the theme within the stagnant surroundings of his Dublin. Verbal 'entrapment' is furthermore offered in the form of a dubious elderly man. The story 'An Encounter' by James Joyce amply exhibits many stylistic features associated with the modernist author - for example the use of epiphany or writing through first person narrative, with inner monologue to highlight the consciousness of the protagonist and also subtly divulge the feelings of others to the perhaps more 'aware' readership. However, Poe, on the contrary, chooses to play the cards of shock and terror in a style which is far more explicit and gruesome in comparison with Joyce's incorporation of ambiguity. The theme of paralysis is key to Joyce's work - the notion is implicit throughout Dubliners as a whole. With this idea comes its antithesis - escape - or with respect to 'An Encounter' and many of the other stories, thwarted escape. It is because of the character's desire to achieve this freedom, that when the day fails to reach its high expectations, the stagnation and restrictiveness of the surroundings are powerfully reinforced - perhaps even confirmed. From the outset of the tale, Joyce ponders the notion of escape. ...read more.


The protagonist's isolation from sympathetic intellectuals due to young age means he is quick to warm to the old man when he talks of literature. In the epiphany, he even appears isolated from his closest friend, Mahoney, and it appears to me that the epiphany of the piece (from the young boy's perspective) confirms that the older man has had a profound influence on his views - both intellectually and sexually. It appears that after entrapment, the isolation of the na�ve child has left him susceptible to corruption and the 'encounter' has left the boy and the audience with the idea (with undoubted authorial intent) that the world is not such an innocent place. Such mental metamorphosis is more openly explicit in Edgar Allen Poe's work, no epiphanies are evident, yet a first person narrative works to convey the progressively tortured thoughts of the protagonist to the reader. 'The Pit and The Pendulum' is a piece typical of the nineteenth century 'gothic horror' genre. The main area of focus is that of psychological terror and mental torture of the protagonist, brought about through natural agents and physical entrapment and isolation. The style is typical of Poe, aesthetic - as opposed to scientific - and wholly grotesque. The piece is, in its simplest form, an account of the destruction of the protagonist's psyche. Poe begins 'in medias res' by describing the trial of the man, the narrator intently focusing upon his gloomy and confused mental state. Syntax used is complex and verbose, helpfully describing the characters inner consciousness and displaying his tangled, entrapping thought processes. The lexical field and imagery employed is especially exotic and indulgent - Poe uses metaphorical language peppered with adverbs and adjectives as the candles before the man alter from 'white slender angels' to 'meaningless spectres, with heads of flame'. Another technique which is commonly employed by Poe is that of repetition, in this particular story, Poe often relies on the syntactical position of verbs to gradually heighten tension, and prompt his audience. ...read more.


These animals bring negative connotation, as they are associated with such horror as The Plague. They are definitely an effective device which works to supplement the physical entrapment already being suffered by the protagonist at this time. At one point, Poe also uses 'fearful images' of skeleton forms and such, which 'disfigure' the surrounding walls. It is stated that these figures have been created by monks, suggesting that this environment is some kind of medieval building - not designed specifically for torture. It is therefore interesting to observe how Poe manages to alter these innocent images into emotionally petrifying fiends - working as the author will have wished, to terrify the protagonist and therefore, the readership. By introducing entrapment in the form of the wooden framework and hideous vermin, Poe has realised the importance of including both physical and metaphysical entrapment a work of the Gothic horror genre of which he is undeniably a master. 1 'The Pit and The Pendulum' was first published in 1843 for a collection named The Gift, later (revised) for the Broadway Journal in 1985. 'An Encounter' - taken from Dubliners - was written in 1904 yet published 1914. 2 In a letter to his English publisher, Grant Richards, he claimed that his intention was 'to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis.' (Letters, II, 134). 3 During the summer of 1904, Joyce and his new-found love Nora Barnacle left Ireland for Europe. At 'An Encounter's' time of writing, it is most likely that Joyce was living in Pola - Croatia. 4 The use of the adverb 'brown' is also evident to the same effect in the story 'Araby'. Entrapment is projected through the 'brown imperturbable faces' of the housing. 5 SEE NOTE 6 This is of course the case in Poe's famous poem; 'The Raven'. ...read more.

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