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The Creature of Nightmare

A Phantasmal Reality The creature of nightmare is an overpowering presence no matter how it is presented. The meaning behind this creature varies depending on the reader. Different perspectives can even illustrate the monster as a force within. However the protagonists execute their relentless tribulations, they will always be doomed to a confined existence. Ethan Frome, for example, recurrently found himself in a state of calamity due to the perpetual obstacles brought on by the menacing creatures in his life. A vision of what could have been a content life seems to be the only source of a genuine existence.

This vision is constantly clouded by the harsh facts of reality. The reality of death, of failure, of poverty, of pain, and of imprisonment is too much for any protagonist to surmount. Due to an overbearing reality, a deadly perversion, and a condemning destiny the creature of nightmare will always prevail. Ethan Frome revolves around the tragedy associated with the callous winters, the norms of society, and the hardships of disease. His story of isolation takes place in the desolate town of Starkfield, a name which in itself depicts the harsh living conditions.

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Ethan and his overbearing wife, Zeena live on a poverty-stricken farm along with Mattie, Ethan’s romantic interest. Zeena is a hypochondriac who burdens Ethan and drives him closer to Mattie. What separates Ethan from Mattie isn’t his forbidden love for her, but society’s rules. The cycle of illnesses in Ethan’s life, due to the disease of others, eventually results in his own complex state of exigency. “Ethan is even described as living in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access”(Wharton 9).

The ominous and vindictive monsters of society, disease, and the environment are what ultimately condemn Ethan Frome to a life of seclusion. The monstrous winters in Ethan Frome are a major turbulence that overpowers Ethan to a point of misery. The narrator shows their severity when he says, “I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months’ siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter” (Wharton 8). Although Ethan longs for a brighter world outside, his natural surroundings illustrate his doomed fate in Starkfield. The narrator repeatedly reflects on the ruthless experience of the winters in Starkfield.

His encounter with the winter is so impactful that he relates the town to a body of troops forced to surrender in a merciless war. Through his time spent in Starkfield, the narrator comes to understand the townspeople’s true character and how they grow to be so inaccessible from the rest of the world. Winter furthermore overwhelms Ethan, physically, during his sledding debacle that impairs him and Mattie for life. The narrative perspective in the story greatly speculates how Ethan is emotionally suffocated and isolated by the harsh force of winter.

Ethan’s own feelings for Mattie are unyielding, but society’s harsh judgment makes them irresolute. Wharton shows Ethan as “a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished”(Wharton 45). Ethan continually finds himself confined by the moral codes of society. Mattie was his only “ray of light” that is unattainable due to his fear of what society would think if he renounced his obligations. He is hindered by what he sees as his responsibilities as a husband and financial predicaments. His low financial status pressures him to remain in a miserable marriage.

These poor circumstances push him to acts of desperation that always end defectively and further isolate him. Ethan’s conscience and morally sanctioned state are what restrain him from achieving his romantic yearnings. Ethan’s life is largely characterized by the fact that he spent most of it tending to the feeble and the crippled. When the narrator is asking about Ethan’s life, Harmon Gow responds by saying, ‘Oh, as to that: I guess it’s always Ethan done the caring’ (Wharton 7). Physical illness is a concrete tragedy in Ethan’s life and Edith Wharton uses it as a mark of his destiny.

Since Ethan was a young boy, the course of his life was hampered by disease. It begins when his dream of pursuing a career in engineering is relinquished by his father’s death and his mother’s illness. Ethan spends so much time around illness and impairments that in the end, he is cursed by the same adverse fate. The different characters’ decrepit physical conditions signify that they are all in states of agony and distress, psychologically. The vital results of disease are what fundamentally place Ethan in an alienated world. Ethan’s creature of nightmare is represented through an inescapable destiny.

The moral duties of society, boundless illness, and overpowering winters place constraints on him that he can never tarnish. Wharton especially emphasizes Zeena’s cruelty and states, “She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others” (Wharton 40). His desire for true love is a forbidden opulence that he can never meet the expense of. The endless winters in Starkfield proves to be a force that pierces his mind and body. He is pressured in a marriage of convenience that is filled with resentment.

His aspirations in life are unattainable and buried along with his days of youth. He became a man with regrets and doubts that he is obligated to face for the rest of his life. The manner in which Wharton expresses the shocks of destiny truly identifies the creatures of Ethan Frome’s life. Ley even goes as far as saying that, “the depth of the story, however, lies not in its plot or its moral but in its brilliant structure, its ironic reversals, its unifying theme of continuous pain, and especially its rich use of imagery and symbolism as an integral part of complex and gripping characterization” (Ley 304).

Since his mom’s illness, Ethan had been constrained to a life of small expectations. His dreams of a higher education and a somewhat luxurious lifestyle were ruined by a turmoil of circumstances. The harder he tried to avoid sickness, the more it seemed to gravitate towards him. What made Ethan so fragile was his constant defeat when he confronted his problems. The only thought of life he came to know was one of bitterness and dimness. These recurring events of misfortune eventually drove him to a life characterized by mere existence.

The Imp of the Perverse embodies the innate desire to do evil. This desire is hidden beneath every human being waiting to be unleashed. Poe states that, “we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not” (Poe 362). The depth that the narrator goes into to establish the true meaning of the “perverseness,” demonstrates the severity of its effects. He is haunted by the mere thought yet wishes to fully explore the faults of humanity.

He especially points out the fact that a lack of insight will always hinder society from understanding religion on a larger aspect. The perverseness is also used as a pretext for his self-destructive behavior. Poe’s outlook on the dark essence of the human mind expresses the natural craving to defy moral responsibilities. In these last culminating sentences the narrator, who started as a reasonably sane protagonist, is overcome in his struggle. The narrator describes his struggle when he states, “at first, I made an effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul” (Poe 366).

The monster that is his perversion proves to be unconquerable. The narrator is betrayed by his own mind and is forced to submit. As a result, he shifts into the antagonist of his own destiny. Poe’s description drags out the grotesque creature and reveals the outcome of the distortion. Now weaker with every breath and tormented by the ringing noise in his head, the narrator discloses his long held secret. His gross acts of murder display him as a madman and entrap him with chains for life. This grand display of insanity proved to be the tragic downfall of a sheer desire.

The “Monster Named Me” illustrates a threatening power awaiting its release. The narrator, who also appears to be the protagonist, faces the dilemma of containing the “monster” beneath his interior. Although the tragedy of the protagonist’s case is explored, the cause of it is not made clear. The said protagonist suffers with being incarcerated within himself. The beast burdens the narrator with aggravating and persistent cries of death. The author relates the ache in his soul to “a thousand drums beating on his chest” (Thatcher 11-12).

The protagonist’s greatest fear is the anticipated realization that this creature is untamable. The outcome of his predicament is bleak and the chance of being liberated is questioned. The creature of nightmare also greatly influences literature and cinema as it is know today. Two well known sources of this archetype include the horror movie Nightmare on Elm Street; and the Broadway hit The Phantom of the Opera. Nightmare on Elm Street tells the tale of murderous madman known as Freddy Krueger who kills his victims in their nightmares.

The infamous quote, “whatever you do, don’t fall asleep” (Craven) depicts Freddy as a literal creature of nightmare that pries on the slightest notion of lethargy. This monster illustrates how evil can deteriorate the human mind when it lacks resistance. The Phantom of the Opera revolves around a deception of the human mind. The protagonist is allured into the music of the phantom and becomes possessed by the creature. The darkness associated with modern portrayals greatly impacts the views of society.

The strong might of the creature of nightmare has almost always conquered through the shocking forces of a doomed fate, a menacing deterioration, and a tragic reality. As a result of these forces, the protagonists have no choice but to submit and become impassive. They were merely unsuspecting minds overwhelmed by disastrous circumstances. The punitive truth of actuality, which ironically embodies Ethan’s nightmare, disoriented him to a state of eternal imprisonment. The narrator in The Imp of the Perverse became so obsessed with his successful crime that he never realized what his corruption had done to his mind.

The world the different protagonists became accustomed to consisted of fear and doubt. All their plans or solutions to escape from a never-ending nightmare were doomed to fail. These ill-fated stories greatly comment on the struggle in humanity today. The stories’ statement of moral decisions poses a question on society’s standards; and how humanity can allow such torment to continue in its presence. Although the meaning of the darkness can vary, the truth of its dark effects will always remain.


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