The main themes of Edgar Allan Poe’s works are death, perversity, revenge and destruction. The settings he employed in the given short stories, especially in The Fall of the House of Usher and The Black Cat are Gothic. Therefore, naturally the mood of these stories would be dark and sepulchral. However, this is not a trivial employment undertaken to put the reader in a certain kind of zone. The reason for a Gothic setting is to ably portray the dark and sepulchral undertones of the psyche of the stories’ characters, and through them, the nature of humans in general.
Compared to the other two short stories given for analysis Hop-Frog has very limited, if any, Gothic elements. However the climax of the story in itself is greatly shocking. Hop-Frog is shown to have tricked the King and his councillors into dressing as ourang-outans on the occasion of a masquerade in the palace. With a pre-planned connivance with Trippetta, he gathers them, thus dressed and chained together, at the centre of the ballroom and suspends them from the ceiling. During this part of the story, the maniacal side of the jester comes forth. The grating of his teeth and foam forming at his mouth create a picture of a mentally unstable person. His whole demeanour changes from that of a congenial, meek servant of the King to a raging, evil villain. Hop-Frog calculatedly planned the entire action, right from the material used to create the costumes which would be easily inflamed to the easy escape he and Trippetta would make after concluding their vendetta successfully. The King and his privy-council had to pay bitterly for their unjust and cruel treatment of Hop-Frog and Trippetta through painful deaths. The manner of the killing, which was made into a ghastly spectacle, reveals the depths of darkness to which the human soul can descend in order to avenge the wrongs inflicted on it. This action of Hop-Frog with participation from Trippetta, however grotesque or inhuman it may seem, is not without reason. They were kidnapped from their land and brought to the King’s palace where they had to lead a life of servility and humiliation and also suffered loss of identity and esteem. They were treated inhumanly and the daily abuse caused resentment and a feeling of revenge in them. However, the dark side of human nature, which presents itself so blatantly through Hop-Frog’s actions, surfaces subtly in the actions of other characters. The King and his council do not hesitate in using Hop-Frog and Trippetta – deserving of more consideration and respect in their own rights – as playthings. The two prisoners (that is what they are in the palace, being held there against their will) have no control over their lives or even their own bodies. The behaviour of the King shows that side of humans that has no consideration for the feelings of others and does not treat others as fellow humans but as mere objects. He oppresses and tyrannises the two dwarfs so much that driven by desperation, they plan and execute his horrific murder in order to escape his torment. The King, blinded by his power and position, humiliates Hop-Frog and Trippetta for his own mirth and his privy-council, who should counsel him in doing otherwise, egg him on and partake in this sordid mockery of the two. In abetting the King, they become his accomplices. They represent lack of compassion and sympathy.
The Black Cat
The Black Cat perhaps examines the dark side of humans most effectively as it involves sadistic actions and even murder. The narrator, who is the perpetrator of most heinous crimes, while enumerating those crimes of his, comes across as cool and rational. Nevertheless, he is an unreliable narrator. He admits that he is greatly fond of animals, yet hurts his cat Pluto. Poe delves into the narrator’s decline from sanity to...