1 November, 2013
The Consequences of Fear in Poe’s “A Descent Into the Maelstrom,” and Gogol’s “Viy”
Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Descent into the Maelstrom,” and Nikolai Gogol’s “Viy,” evoke similar feelings within the reader. Both stories have fear as a central theme, specifically fear of the unknown. The stories have relatable ideas on how fear originates and what it can do to a person. In both stories fear stemmed from unexplainable chaos outside of the character’s control, terrorized them while simultaneously evoking human curiosity, and changed the protagonist for the worst. Both stories also have a clear message that fear can destroy you if you don’t take ...view middle of the document...
This suggests that fear stems from lack of understanding. If you can fully explain something you have no reason to fear it. It is the unexplainable, the events that you cannot predict, that are utterly terrifying. It is the reason we are naturally afraid of the dark- because we are unsure of what could be in it that we cannot see. When the Philosopher Thomas is left alone with the witch’s body, it is not knowing what to expect that scares him. He doesn’t know why she requested him, or what she is going to do. He is not positive his prayers will be enough to keep him safe. (Gogol 47) He illuminates the whole church so that the darkness cannot hide anything from him. (Gogol 47) The same can be said about the Maelstrom. It is not fully explained, just that many ships and yachts have disappeared down it, and when whales come to near it, you can hear their bellowing as they try to escape it. (Poe 6) As soon as the protagonist realizes that he is trapped within the Maelstrom, he is fully resigned to the belief that he is going to die in the vortex. (Poe 11)
It only makes sense that the mystery and lack of understanding about the terrible events that the characters are thrown into would evoke curiosity from them. In both stories, when the characters are thrown into the heart of the unexplainable terror, they admit to being overwhelmed with curiosity. In “Maelstrom,” the main character becomes “…possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore it’s depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see.” (Poe 12) Then, in “Viy,” even when The Philosopher is alone in the church with a witch and god knows what other demons, he admits that the “…strange curiosity and peculiar fascination which men feel in moments of fear compelled [me] to look again, though with a similar shudder.” So even in the face of our greatest fears, there is an innate sense of human curiosity that drives us to explain something that hasn’t been previously explained.
While both stories center on the morbid curiosity that surrounds fear, they view it in different ways. Poe seems to say that being curious about the source of your fear can help you to explain and thus escape it, while in Gogol’s story this curiosity is what led to Thomas’s demise. Gogol seems to agree with the “stare too long into the abyss and it stares back” idea, as the more time Thomas spent in the witch’s presence, the weaker he got, until he was eventually overpowered. Poe seems to take an active approach in telling the reader to address their fear and get to the bottom of it, believing that in the end no matter how terrible or out of your control your fear is, if you keep a cool head you can survive it.
Both stories also suggest that fear can completely change a person. In Poe’s story, the main character starts the story by saying “You...