A Programmed Failure by Design: Hamartia in Gothic Literature

Powerful Essays
Gothic literature is a twisted mind game for the reader – a roller coaster of frenzied emotions ranging from despondence to absolute terror, depending upon the fate of the character in the story. To deliver a resounding, deliberate emotional blow to the reader, the author puts us in the position of the main character, and then traps him in a series of inescapable misfortunes, thus trapping us in the same chaotic series of events. One of the most effective vessels used by Gothic writers to deliver this psychologically traumatic experience is to construct an innate hamartia within a character. A hamartia, or tragic flaw, is the single decisive flaw in a character’s personality that results in his ultimate downfall, defeat or death. In “A Tell-Tale Heart” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” the presence of an ingrained hamartia within a primary character elicits a consuming sense of fear and defeat in the reader by immersing him in the mind of the character. Edgar Allen Poe is contemporarily known for his Gothic works, but more specifically for implementing palpable fabrics of horror and the omnipresent element of death in his writing. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a short story told from the eyes of the narrator that delivers an array of erratic emotion to the reader, ranging from excitement and anxiety to sheer horror. The story is the narrator’s attempted explanation to the reader that he is not insane – a captivating author technique that creates a sense of unease in the reader after the very first sentence. The narrator then goes on to intricately describe his murder of an old man in the heart of the night. In the beginning of the story, the narrator states that he had no tangible motives to murder the old man, and then explains w... ... middle of paper ... in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” with the same technique. Both of these authors were deliberate and thoughtful with the inclusion of this hamartia, intending for it to first cause unease and discomfort, then deliver a resonating emotional impact upon the reader. As readers, we immerse ourselves in the mind of the character, and Gothic writers Poe and O’Connor exploit this tendency by poisoning the character’s mind with hamartias, and thereby, with failure before the start of the story, thus inevitably poisoning the reader’s mind and setting him en route for empathetic emotional damage. The character does not develop this hamartia as the story progresses, but is plagued with it upon existence in the story – it is a programmed failure by design of the author that leaves the reader whole-heartedly surrendered, looking upwards desperately for any chance of salvation.
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