“The Lesson,” written by Toni Cade Bambara, and “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe, address different concepts and character types; however, the theme of guilt and subsequent fear runs throughout both stories and represents the challenges of one’s upbringing and surrounding environment in supporting personal feelings and emotions. Both stories resonate because they represent guilt in different yet meaningful ways. Two building structures, FAO Schwartz toy store and the House of Usher, signify a much larger meaning than an actual physical location. This information is relevant because it captures the essence of the complexity of these two stories and the ability of the authors to impact their readers through various images and symbols that support their objectives. Each story provides important imagery through the author’s choice of words that support a greater understanding of fear and guilt as they are represented in these two stories.
“The Lesson” addresses the theme of fear and guilt through the author’s word choices as a means of symbolizing the primary character’s dilemma in making a decision that will either please herself or her friends. One particularly relevant phrase is as follows: “And it’s like the time me and Sugar crashed into the Catholic church on a dare. But once we got in there and everything so hushed and holy and the candles and the bowin and the handkerchiefs on all the drooping heads, I just couldn’t go through with the plan” (Bambara). These sentences represent much greater symbolism that a physical structure, as the character is unable to go through with the actions that she was supposed to take. For example, she is affected by “everything so hushed and holy” and “the candles and the bowin and the handkerchiefs on all the drooping heads” that she is unable to move forward. These phrases symbolize a much larger picture, as the character represents herself in a manner that is above her life experience and her environment, where many children are unappreciative and selfish to the extent that they do not realize how damaging these behaviors are to themselves and to others. Therefore, the character begins to realize that perhaps the behaviors that she typically chooses are not always appropriate and that as a result, she is feeling a sense of guilt and fear for the repercussions that might occur. The author attempts to convey with these words that although people are a product of their own environments, they also have the ability to overcome negativity and to make their own decisions. The symbol of FAO Schwartz contributes to this meaning because it conveys that which is unattainable in the eyes of some individuals. Therefore, an understanding of the context that surrounds this story is necessary to identify with its characters and to decipher the meaning behind the words that have been written. With this story, the theme of fear and guilt is evident in the character’s recognition of her behaviors and her flaws and how they have contributed to the negative circumstances within her life.
The story “Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe signifies Poe’s dark signature style in a fitting manner. The story represents the House of Usher as almost human-like and alive, which is both frightening and intriguing to the reader. At the same time, the House is a much larger symbol of gloom and horror that is conveyed through the eyes of Roderick, a man who is haunted by his own sister. The story has many dark twists and turns and further explores the dimensions of life and death in a unique manner.
The following phrasing is of particular interest to the reader: “I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves…No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air” (Poe). These sentences are highly visual and allow the imagination to run wild because they convey the importance of the physical structure of the house and its haunting nature. In this context, it is observed that there is a sense of guilt within Roderick’s psyche because of his unique and unsettling relationship with his sister Madeline, and this reverberates throughout the story and expands its meaning even further. In particular, the phrase “wild inconsistency” perhaps has dual meaning because it also represents Roderick’s own psyche and his unsettling relationship with Madeline. The story is challenging to the reader because the imagery is so complex and multifaceted, and it also supports Poe’s greater purpose and insight into his characterizations. Roderick’s mindset is engulfed by regret and guilt, which has led to fear that is difficult to overcome. The images that are conveyed are very real and almost haunting to the reader because the characters that are described have real conflicts and emotions that are challenging and almost inappropriate. Therefore, many questions are raised regarding the story and its true meaning for the reader.
In Poe’s story, the House of Usher takes on a life of its own that is disturbing in some ways, yet intriguing in others. It allows the reader to develop an imagination that goes above and beyond a level of comfort due to the intensity and complexity of Poe’s imagery and descriptions. The story also considers the challenges associated with guilt and the fear that many individuals experience throughout their lives. Therefore, the story is challenging to read, but it conveys many different emotions through the depictions of the House of Usher and its physical presence.
The stories by Bambara and Poe represent vastly different ideas and concepts, yet share a similar theme of fear and guilt. These stories are set in very different eras and environments, but the symbols of FAO Schwartz and the House of Usher are used in similar ways. It is necessary to address the backgrounds of the primary characters to decipher the authors’ intent and purpose in creating these stories. For the primary character in Bambara’s story, there is a sense of entitlement that is perceived because the author has been raised in a difficult and impoverished environment. However, she begins to recognize that there is more to life than her surroundings and therefore, her eyes are opened to new sights when she visits FAO Schwartz. Although her attitude is poor, she begins to see things in a new light, and her actions reflect her different perspective. The building supports the theme of fear and guilt as she opens her eyes to her past behaviors. On the other hand, Poe’s story takes a much darker tone and represents a different kind of structure, the House of Usher. This building is described in a very haunting way and conveys the importance of Roderick, his own demons, and his relationship with his not-so-dead sister Madeline. It is important to recognize that the House of Usher symbolizes Roderick’s own demons and his internal struggles as he battles these experiences within his own life. Both stories put their own spin the theme of guilt and fear and support the development of strong and conflicted characters who share similar emotions and inner struggles, although the stories are very different.
Bambara, Toni Cade. “The Lesson.” 3 October 2013: http://cai.ucdavis.edu/gender/thelesson.html
Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” 3 October 2013: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/poe/fall.html