Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Meaghan Simond's Senior Art Thesis  


Edgar Allan  Poe

Meaghan  Simonds 


Changes in Capital Punishment and Torture Practices since the Eighteenth Century

Edgar Allen Poe: A Look into the Dark Side of Humanity

The morality of capital punishment and torture was both questioned and defended in many countries. The methods used and offenses punishable by death differed in eastern and western cultures, as seen in Britain, France, Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Attitudes toward these methods of punishment and the offenses punishable by those methods changed beginning in the eighteenth century. In the West, more and more European and North American countries abolished capital punishment, although French officials did use torture during World War II when under the control of the Nazis. The former Soviet Union regularly used torture as a method of punishment during interrogations to persuade prisoners to confess. Contrastingly, capital punishment and torture continued in some Middle Eastern countries. Women endured greater penalties for their crimes, including execution for a broader number of offenses than men. Men commonly received lesser punishments and often were simply beaten. Capital punishment, however, prevented the convicted individuals from rehabilitation. Thus, capital punishment did not help decrease crime and did not further the ideal of justice.

As capital punishment precludes individuals from improving themselves by cutting off their lives, Edgar Allan Poe’s characters similarly grapple with flaws such as insanity and greed that threaten their self-improvement. Certain circumstances interfere with the individual’s struggle (society or other forces surrounding the individual), which can either assist in the character’s victory in overcoming the struggle or cause them to succumb to it. For instance, Roderick Usher of “The Fall of the House of Usher” struggles with his reclusiveness and eventually succumbs to insanity. Because Usher isolates himself, he is unable to improve his condition. Ultimately, the narrator who visits Usher to ease his feelings of isolation is unable to help his friend, and any attempt by Usher to overcome his own inner darkness is in vain. Contrastingly, in “The Spectacles,” the central character, Napoleon Simpson, struggles with arrogance and greed. He marries his great, great grandmother, but the marriage proves a farce when he discovers they are related. It is his grandmother who helps him see beyond the material wealth that motivated him to marry her, and enables him to see reality, thereby helping him overcome his flaws.

Major Works Cited:

Gerber, Rudolph and John Johnson. The Top Ten Death Penalty Myths. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2007.
Hood, Roger and Carolyn Hoyle. The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective. New York: Oxford U.P., 2008.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006. 299-313.
---. “The Spectacles.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006. 550-569.
Photo Credit: Magill, Frank N. “Edgar Allan Poe.” Dictionary of: World Biography: The 19th Century. Volume VI. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1999.

 

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