Jennifer Wheetley Cook
English Comp II, Thematic Analysis
12 July 2014
Religion & Murder in 19th Century American Fiction
The recurring theme in “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe and “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is religion. “The Black Cat” is about a man who is at a crossroads between the religion he knows and the new scientific theories of the day. “A Rose for Emily” is about a woman caught between her Episcopalian beliefs and the Baptist beliefs of the community she lives in. Both stories use isolation and murder to illustrate the main character’s struggle with religion. However, while Faulkner’s Emily is dealing with outside isolation of her ...view middle of the document...
Emily has a lot of secrets that are kept by various members of her community. Such as Emily's suitor, Homer Barron's mysterious disappearance followed by the discovery of his remains which were found years later locked in an upstairs bedroom in a bed Emily appears to have slept in. “Obviously, in Emily's case, the possibility for a full confession before death exists only with her author, and his knowledge of her actions remains confidential until after her death” (Getty 232).
The second story, “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe, is representative of the recurring theme because it tells the story of a man who is challenging the concept of religion: "I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart-one of the indivisible faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man" (par 8). According to Joseph Stark, author of “The Mystery of the Will in Poe's The Black Cat"”, the 1830's and 1840's in America was a significant time for Protestants; the reformed doctrines of the previous century were in significant decline, even among Calvinists like Nathaniel Taylor. The traditional doctrines, such as that of human depravity, had been reworked to lack any resemblance to the teachings of their forebears. Taylor argued that “sinfulness arises from sinful acts rather than from a sinful nature inherited from Adam" (Stark 256). Taylor's view of human nature, by implication, gave greater freedom to freewill by denying that inherited depravity necessarily led one to sinful actions. Similarly, the revivalist Charles Grandison Finney emphasized the power of the human will to overcome sin irrespective of any unique work of god. When combined with observations about the scientific developments of the day, we learn, Protestant theology and scientific theories of human origin were intersecting as they crossed paths on different trajectories (Stark 257). Poe’s writing points out, the conflict he feels between his Protestant beliefs and the new science he is embracing: