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Poes Use of Lead Characters

It is very easy to associate Edgar Allen Poe with thoughts of dreariness and darkness and with good reason as much of his writing does reflect those very downcast moods.  Although, authors do like to sometimes break their stereotypes and produce things entirely different from their usual and Poe is no exception.  This can be easily observed by comparing the use of his lead characters in the stories The Black Cat, Hop-Frog and  The Purloined Letter.
Each character is in a different situation and the reader has a different reaction to each one according to their actions.
The narrator in The Black Cat is the kind of character one likely comes into contact with most in Poes works. He is a man who is mad and in his madness commits terrible sins that can only seem justified in their own insane reasoning.  He very much denies his madness from the very beginning of the story when he comes right out and says My very senses reject their own evidence.  Yet, mad I am not. He makes all the excuses he can come up with for his actions, but they do little more than prove his insanity to the reader. After he viciously gouges out the eye of a cat he is convinced he loves, he admits that his soul is untouched by the guilt he should be overcome with after such an offensive crime. He says I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime which I had been guilty; but it was a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched.  He feels himself overcome with a feeling of perverseness and cannot keep himself from doing things for no other reason than he knows they are wrong.  He is not a good man, throughout the story he does multiple evil things without remorse.

Hop-Frog, on the other hand, starts off his story as the underdog.  His value was trebled in the eyes of the king, by the fact of his being also a dwarf and a cripple.  It seems he has everything against him.  His sole purpose to the kings court is to be laughed at.  He is not treated as though a person, but merely an object for the kings amusement and therefore he is shown respect and pity from absolutely no one excepting his only friend and fellow dwarf Trippetta whom had been captured from the same country as himself.  In addition to the constant emotional torture he receives from those around him, he is in constant physical pain whenever he walks, thus the basis of his nickname Hop-Frog, through the distortion of his legs, could only move with great pain and difficulty along a road or floor.  Poe uses the first half or so of the story to evoke pity from the reader for Hop-Frogs sad and pathetic position and making him the protagonist and the king and his ministers the antagonists.  Although Hop-Frog does do a terrible and gruesome and terrible thing by tricking the king and his ministers and burning them alive, one finds it hard to hate him for it in light of the actions that had provoked it.  In this way he is different from the narrator in our first story as they both committed great evils, but where one the reader hates for his actions the other they are better able to relate to and appreciate the justice that results.  Instead of feeling pity for the victims, one finds themselves happy that Hop-Frog and Trippetta are able to get their revenge and leave the place they so hated.  Hop-Frog is a good character who does to evil things but with justification.

Monsieur Dupin in The Purloined Letter is very much unlike either of the aforementioned characters.  This story is very different to the others addressed because there are no gruesome acts of evil, no one dies and no one is subjected to painful torture.  It is somewhat uncharacteristic of what one may have come to expect from Poe.  Monsieur Dupins actions are in no way evil but instead well thought out actions of wit and intelligence.  He demonstrates his unconventional ways of thinking in solving the crime that others had been incompetent to.  The Prefect, for example is perplexed by his own inability to solve a crime that seems so simple.  He states We have all been a good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles us all together.  The minister make the Prefect seem a fool to the reader by showing him it is the very simplicity of the matter that allows the letter to elude his frantic searches.  He brings to the readers attention that a poet such as the thief thinks differently than the average mind.

In speaking of the Prefect and the rest of his force he mentions Their ingenuity is a faithful representative of the mass; but when cunning of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils them.  Instead of hating him or pitying him as we might the characters in the other stories, the reader develops respect for his superior powers of reasoning.  In the same way, instead of pitying or despising the victims of our lead character as in the past stories, we are somewhat humored by their being made fools of.  The only thing Dupin really has in common with the narrator in The Black Cat and Hop-Frog is they are all of above average intelligence, a trait shared by many of Poes leading characters.  Monsieur Dupin is a good and intelligent character who goes the whole story without any evil acts.
As much as people tend to assume all of Poes stories are much alike, in comparing these three one can see he uses three different, distinct kinds of lead characters to generate different obvious reactions.  The readers response to each lead character and those he interacts with changes from story to story.  Therefore each story had a different overall effect  and feel to it.  The characters may quite possibly be the most important element in any story for if the reader cannot relate to the emotions or empathize at all with any of the character there will be little or no emotion provoked by the story, in which case it would likely have had little impact on the reader.

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