Guilt and Responsibility in the American Short S

Guilt and Responsibility in the American Short S

  • Submitted By: mechelle
  • Date Submitted: 09/27/2009 9:45 AM
  • Category: English
  • Words: 4432
  • Page: 18
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Discuss the representation of guilt and responsibility in the short fiction of any three different authors on the course (you many if you wish select one story by each of the authors you select for discussion).

Firstly I am going to define the meaning of ‘guilt and responsibility’. ‘In Western culture Christians inherited most notions of guilt from Judaism, Persian and Roman ideas, which mostly interpreted through Augustine, adapted Plato’s ideas to Christianity. The Latin word for guilt is ‘culpa’ which means ‘to take responsibility,’ thus, in Western civilisation, guilt is defined as an affective state in which one experiences conflict of having done something one believes one should not have done or, conversely, not having done something one believes one should have done.’[1] There are many different forms and causes of guilt and they are often represented within literature, however, in order to demonstrate the aforementioned I am going to discuss three short stories, one from each of the following authors: Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville and William Faulkner.

From 1838 to 1844, Edgar Allan Poe lived and worked in Philadelphia as a writer and a journalist. ‘In April, 1840 he reported in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger on the trial of James Wood, who was being trailed for the murder of his daughter, however, was found ‘Not Guilty’ on the grounds of insanity.’[2] According to Susan Amper, prior to 1835 insanity pleas had been entered only in the defence of idiots or maniacs, however, after the publication of James Cowles Prichard’s Treatise of 1835 and 1842, which popularized the notion of ‘moral insanity,’[3] the situation changed. More and more legal cases were being acquitted on the grounds of moral insanity which resulted in much political social and theological debate. Poe’s short story, Tell Tale Heart published in 1843, can be viewed as a response to this controversial issue; presenting the question of...

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