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Horror in Literature

There are many elements which classic literature presents; these are based on the genres of love, or tragedy, yet within these two paradigms there exists sub-genres in which the authors relate to their readers many other human capacities. In the three works of literature which this paper will focus on, Wiesel’s Night, Shakespeare’s MacBeth, and Milton’s Paradise Lost each reveal a certain capacity of giving the reader a specific view into this horror.

The purpose of this essay is to analyze the use of this horror effect, not only through the characters, or the collective group of people but also through setting, actions, and objects as the authors present them. Night Elie Wiesel’s novel Night takes place in Nazi Germany during the second world war. The novel recounts the horrors of Elie as a young man, and his father’s stay in a concentration camp. Although the novel presents elements of horror for very specific reasons of death and starvation, and basic human living conditions there is an element of horror in the collective apathy of the Nazi soldier.

Their disregard for the Jews’ humanity is what strikes the reader first and foremost in the novel. While the people in the concentration camps are starving and living lives that are devoid of even the basic human necessities, as well as the experiments that the Nazi soldier’s performed on the Jews that the novel does not cover to any great extent but was a definite fact during this time period, there remained no human recognition in the relationship between these two groups.

Throughout the narrator and father’s stay in the concentration camp, Elie discovers that this apathy is a contagion, as the beginning of the novel states, “‘What can we expect? It’s war…. ‘” (Wiesel 4). Thus, the general ‘excuse’ at the beginning of the novel, and perhaps throughout the work was that during a war, the general practices of being decent to one another was not at the forefront of human interaction. In the horror in the novel Elie describes not only the debasing quality of the Nazis but their treatment of the Jews is akin to them being animals, as Wiesel writes, “The doors were nailed up; the way back was finally cut off.

The world was a cattle wagon hermetically sealed. ” (Wiesel 22). Thus, the equation between a person and cattle is stated early on in the novel, and this metaphor is maintained throughout the entire re-telling of young Elie’s stay at the concentration camp. The treatment that the young and the old alike endured in the concentration camp was horrendous, as is the theme of this paper. Not only were the Jews treated in such a deplorable way, but the interactions between soldier and prisoner is nothing short of hellish, as can be read in this passage when the Jews first arrive at the camp, “‘Do you see that chimney over there?

See it? Do you see those flames? (Yes, we did see the flames. ) Over there-that’s where you’re going to be taken. That’s your grave, over there. ‘” (Wiesel 28). The most striking image of the novel however is when Elie and his father are forced to march through the snow in order to escape from Allied forces and letting the Jewish people go free. This is when the young violin player dies in the snow, and it is when Elie’s father die. The horror of the novel extends to the memory the Nazi soldiers embedded in Elie’s life with both of their deaths, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me.

The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me. ” (Wiesel 109). Thus, the transformation of a young boy and his being forced to live in the fashion that he did, and this pervasive memory that his haunting, is the true horror of the novel: apathy would be the manifestation of this horror. MacBeth There are also elements of horror in Shakespeare’s tragedy MacBeth. Although Shakespeare does not write in the similar context as Wiesel, and his characters for the most part are fictional, his use of horror is nonetheless prevalent.

In Night the reader was presented to horror as it related to apathy and the human condition, in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, the opposite is true since the court is full of intrigue and people being of constant concern of the other people’s actions around them, there is no apathy present, but rather spying is the dominant force in the play. The horror that is presented in Shakepeare’s tragedy is the opposite of apathy, it is revenge, jealousy, spite, all mixed in with the control figure of Lady MacBeth. In her soliloquies, these aspects of her personality become more and more strikingly apparent.

The purpose of Lady MacBeth’s actions is propogated by her lust for power. She sees her husband as a vehicle for gaining this power and controls him through her emotions, and words into gaining this power through usurping the throne, committing murder and eventually betraying everyone around him. She is unsympathetic to his plight and still propels her lust forward in order to gain what she wants, as is read in this passage, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One: two:why, then ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, Fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who Knows it, when none can call our power accompt?

Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? ” (Shakespeare Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 34-39). This is what Lady Macbeth says to herself while she is sleepwalking, thus her unconscious mind allows the truth of her actions to be known to the reader/audience. The horror of Lady MacBeth is that she so willingly sacrifices her husband for her own lust or power, and she does this without feeling any guilt. This may lead the reader to believe that Lady MacBeth does not hold the typical human capacity for emotion, and thus, her horror is found in her inhuman qualities.

Perhaps the most notable of Lady MacBeth’s revealing quotes is this, “How tender tis to love the babe that milks me; I would, while it was smiling in my face have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out” (Shakespeare Act 1 Scene 6, Lines 55-58). Some of Lady MacBeth’s actions and propositions may be supernaturally inspired, as the play does delve into this black magic capacity, and thus Lady MacBeth’s actions may be thought to be inspired through these means, but regardless of the source of her actions, it is evident that Lady MacBeth is the horror factor in Shakespeare’s play MacBeth.

Paradise Lost In Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost the motif of the story is Morning Star’s fall from heaven with 1/3 of the angels from heaven with him. The basic dichotomy of good and evil is played out in this poem. While apathy was the theme in Night, and power was the theme in MacBeth, Milton’s work seems to be similar to Shakespeare’s themes in that power and revenge is the motive for the actions of the poem, while there is still a definite apathy or treatment of humans as beasts more than humans in the poem’s context and progression of the plot.

The horror then in Milton’s poem is found in these aforementioned elements, and thus, it could be considered to be the more horrendous of the three analyzed literary works in this essay. The true horror of the poem can easily be seen as the devil, but upon closer examination of the text is seems that the devil’s downfall is similar to Lady MacBeth’s: power. The devil is denies power, and thus is found the reason for his expulsion from heaven. Therefore the horror of the poem is found in the loss of heaven and the continuation of trying to gain access to it once again.

Therefore the horror of the poem is reversibly the nature of God, and the punishment inflicted upon the devil in that expulsion. Thus, the horror of the poem is religion, which is the opposite of the horror found in Night where the religious were the ones being prosecuted but the ones committing acts of horror and devastation as is the case in Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. Milton’s role reversal in this poem is uniquely done, but is not the full extant of horror in the poem. It seems that God was on a kick of expelling people from paradise as can be seen with Morning Star/Satan and later with Adam and Eve.

However, Milton transforms these acts of horror in having known paradise and then being expelled from paradise by finding the strength and love in expulsion by having Adam and Eve come together in a stronger bond of love in their shared punishment. Thus, unlike the other works, it is with Milton’s that the reader finds the transformation of one horror into a greater good. Conclusion Each story has been a reflection of horror; with Wiesel’s story the horror was found in the Jewish people being treated with complete apathy and like animals more than humans.

In Shakespeare’s play Lady MacBeth’s power hungry actions got her nothing but trouble, thus teaching the audience that such deeds are wrong and evil and punishable by denial of paradise at the end of the tragedy, and in the character of Lady MacBeth, the horror is found in her willingness to sacrifice her husband, and her child in order to keep her promises, to gain power. In Milton’s poem, the horror is found with the actions of God, and the expulsion of his three prized characters: Satan, Adam and Eve.

The elements of horror are found in each of these works in varying degrees and in different avenues but the fact is that horror was the man propagation of the plot, and the change of each of the characters personalities or fates. Horror was the controlling element and thus the ‘god’ in each work.

Works Cited

Milton, J. Paradise Lost. Penquin Classics. New York. 2003. Shakespeare, W. MacBeth. Washington Square Press. New York. 2003. Wiesel, E. Night. Signet Classic. New York. 1985.

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