Comparing Pursuit of Perfection by Poe and Hawthorne and the Realism of Melville and Jacobs
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Pursuit of Perfection by Poe and Hawthorne and the Realism of Melville and Jacobs
One of the elements of Romanticism is the pursuit of perfection. While Poe and Hawthorne's characters strive in vain for the perfect woman (or rather her perfect attribute) or the perfectly engineered person, Melville already knows that perfection is an illusion. Melville paints a more realistic portrait of the imperfections of society. The women writers take Melville's assessments of the world and the human condition even further. Phelps and Jacobs' know first-hand about the misconceptions of perfection and the inability to capture that image. The burden of seamless domesticity wears on the women in these stories. Jacobs' story carries the heaviest burden of all being undermined by the repression of women and the hardships of slavery.
In Poe's Ligeia the narrator is captivated by his wife's beauty and intelligence, with which he becomes obsessed. He is particularly attracted to "the dear music of her low sweet voice". Her "rare" and "immense" learning makes her unique and intriguing. However, because "her knowledge was such as" the narrator had "never known in a woman" she is a threat. Johanyak says that, "Poe's intellectual heroines are first idealized and then feared or misunderstood by men who fail to understand or accept their quest for knowledge" (63). The narrator admits that he had "never known her at fault". In essence, he is conceding that she was in fact the perfect woman. In the fateful pattern of Poe's female characters, such perfection must be punished. She dies and the narrator agonizes over his loss. It is not until this retelling of their marriage that the narrator truly appreciates all that she was and all that ...
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