As a child, everyone is guilty of stealing the last cookie or snatching their favorite colored marker to draw with. This is human instinct, but it is not for survival anymore. Repercussions such as timeout time are often just around the corner after these actions. This greedy acquisition of material goods met with consequences can be attributed to karma. Washington Irving, Stephen Vincent Benet, and Edgar Allen Poe demonstrate these ideas of karma in their respective books, The Devil and Tom Walker, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and The Masque of the Red Death.
Romantics value intuition and feeling in order to reach self realization in contrast to rationalists’ value of reason and goods to create a better life. In romantics eyes self realization and freedom is the key to a better life. This fact is shown in the three stories through a rationalist character with a fatal flaw and dream for a better life, an act of greed done by that character to try to achieve that, and a repercussion for it. These three things are demonstrated in all three tales and show the importance of finding a good way to live honestly.
All three main characters show a great desire for, something, but it changes for each one. Tom Walker and Prince Prospero each wanted more of something, while Jabez Stone wanted his bad luck to stop. Tom Walker was a poor man who hated his wife. He let her go off into the woods to try to find the devil and make a deal, but she never returned. After some time Tom went to search for her body, for she had taken their silverware. Nearing to the end of his search and starting to lose hope Tom “recognized his wife’s apron, and supposed it to contain the household valuables. Let us get hold of the property,’ said he, consolingly to himself, ‘and we will endeavour to do without the women. ‘
As he scrambled up the tree, the vulture spread its wide wings, and sailed off, screaming, into the deep shadows of the forest. Tom seized the checked apron, but, woeful sight! Found nothing but a heart and liver tied up in it! “(Irving 10) Tom wanted to only find his silverware in the woods. This showed how all he cared about was his money, rather than people like his wife. It drives Tom to do more in the future and search for ways to get his money back.
The easiest way for Tom to do this was through a deal with the devil, so his greed drove him to made a deal with the devil. Prince Prospero’s greed was in many ways alike, yet also different. Prospero wanted company with him to ride out the disease going on outside, so he “summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of his castellated abbeys”(Poe 95) Prospero gathered one thousand people to stay with him during the epidemic and kept them there not to keep them safe, but to keep him occupied.
This is shown because he did not just take any person, he took only the people he enjoyed. The company let Prospero neglect what was really happening in the world and therefore led him to his demise by blocking him from thinking. So, Tom and Prospero wanted more, making the flaw inside of them and leading them to mistakes, but Jabez was different. Jabez Stone simply wishes for his bad luck to stop. He feels everything bad happens to him, so “One day Jabez Stone got sick of the whole business. He’d been plowing that morning and just broke the plowshare on a rock that he could have sword was not there yesterday…
It was about the last straw for Jabez Stone. ‘I vow,’ he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate-‘l vow it’s enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil! And I would, too, for two cents”(Benet 306). Jabez simply wanted his bad luck to come to an end, nothing more. But, this bit of greed was enough to send him over the edge. It leads Jabez to strike a deal with the devil, relinquishing his life to him. Jabez, Tom, and Prospero’s greed lead them to search for improvement in physical things, which has none and instead they should have been searching inside of themselves.
The romantic writings all demonstrate an attempt to improve the main character’s life. In The Masque of the Red Death a disease is ravaging through the kingdom. In an attempt to save himself Prince Prospero gathers uninfected citizens and locks them in his castle with him so he may not get lonely. Prospero’s answer to staying occupied was keeping his thousand guests in a constant party containing music, wine, dancers, and everything else extravagant. The party had all of the provisions necessary not to think, except when the clock rang.
The clock counted down to their death, and during this moment “The musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there were brief disconcert of the whole gay company”(Poe 97). The prince’s efforts to run from death were obviously unsuccessful as despite all of the grandness of his ball death still rang out. The goods and distractions employed by Prospero did nothing to change the fact that death was imminent.
Poe is pointing out here that these distractions are actually degrading the quality of life because the people cannot accept the fact that they are inevitably going to die when the clock reaches midnight, and instead everyone is forced to be pulled from this fact. The romantic ideas are shining through as bright tasd the sun here, objects and goods distract people from truly reaching a higher reality and seeing how events are unfolding around them. In The Devil and Tom Walker and The Devil and Daniel Webster similar attempts to material goods are made.
Tom Walker makes a deal with the devil, turning him from rags to riches. He quickly becomes rich after opening a bank with the fortune he gathered from the devil. Tom buys everything he wants and before long “began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of the sudden, a violent churchgoer”(Irving 13). Tom no longer was content with his deal of selling his soul to the devil.
He began to see that his freedom and his life was more important than his big house and money. The fact that Irving included this shows how his quality of life really did not improve as he was trying to. The romantic value of freedom over goods shines through with Tom’s realization that he wanted his life back. This trend of regret continues after Stephen Benet’s labez Stone gets fed up with all of the things that happen to him. He feels he is the most unlucky person in the world and makes a deal with the devil so that he can have good luck for (ultimately) ten years before the devil takes him.
The deal makes Jabez have good crop turnout, strong horses, and good luck, but also extreme apprehensiveness “For every day, when he gets up, he thinks, ‘There’s one more night gone,’ and every night he lies down he thinks of the black pocketbook and the soul of Miser Stevens, and it makes him sick at heart”(Benet 310). Stone cannot bear the fact the he can count down the days until his death. The benefits of the deal with the devil no longer help Jabez and he realizes that his freedom is more important than having nice.
He cannot enjoy his life no matter what while he knows his fate, showing romanticism’s emphasis on freedom for self realization. Jabez’s good luck is quickly overshadowed when he realizes he doesn’t have his life anymore, illuminating the fact that romanticism does not value the goods. Tom and Jabez exemplify romantic ideals when they begin to regret their decision and support the importance of freedom. As a result of each character’s attempt to make a better life for themselves each has a repercussion and effect of it.
Tom Walker and Prince Prospero end up dead for their actions. Tom’s deal was set to end on a certain date, when the devil would come and take him away. When the day came, Tom was taken away and “all his bonds and mortgages were found reduced to cinders. In place of gold and silver, his iron chest was filled with chips and shavings; two skeletons lay in his stable instead of his half-starved horses, and the very next day his great house took fire and was burnt to the ground”(Irving 15). Tom’s possessions were all soiled in one way or another as part of the deal.
It did nothing to improve his life because he lived as a slave to the devil, being his personal broker before being eradicated from earth. It shows how little the deal did for Tom and how limiting it was to the quality of his life. It highlights romanticism’s importance of freedom and self realization over material goods. This theme is also shown in Masque of the Red Death with Prospero, whose party has everything anyone could ever dream to have in it, but it still is not enough. Death still makes it into his party because there was time, which kills.
An infected person who is literally death, appears at midnight, the end of time, and runs through the ballrooms into the last black one. There Prospero tries to kill him, but dies and “one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall”(Poe 101). Prince Prospero died along with everyone else at the party when their time was up. The amount of distractions and wealth in the ball did nothing to stop their imminent death. The people were caught off guard by death because they would not think about it.
Romantic ideals are clear as day with this because the people gave up their freedom in order to be falsely protected within the castle by the elegance of the ball. Prospero and Tom Walker both were killed for their mistakes, and Jabez Stone almost has the same fate. Jabez was supposed to have the same fate as the other two characters, but the power of a true hero is shown in this story. Jabez becomes paranoid about counting down to his last day and breaks, going to find Daniel Webster. Webster is a man made from his own luck and works for his benefits.
Webster agrees to help Jabez and goes to court against the devil. Webster fights through the night with the devil and the jury finds Jabez innocent and Daniel won. Daniel acts in accordance with his victory: “I’ll have that paper first, if you please,’ said Daniel Webster, and he took it and tore it into four pieces. It was queerly warm to the touch. ‘And now,’ he said, I’IL have you’ and his hand came down like a bear trap on the stranger’s arm. For he knew that once you bested anybody like Mr. Scratch in fair fight, his power on you was gone”(Benet 318).
Jabez’s request for help save his life. It shows how the devil can be bested by real freedom, such as in Daniel Webster’s case. The fact that Daniel Webster beat the devil showed how he was a true romantic hero. It proves that with your freedom and a little bit of skill anything can be done. Jabez, Tom, and Prospero all faced the same term for their deal, death, but Daniel Webster shows how romantic ideals can be used to win anything. Romanticism teaches individuals how to be productive members of society by making a foundation for themselves.
It shows how with something as simple as freedom, anything can be done, so nothing is a lost hope; something can always be done. With hard work or an apology the negative effects of a failed test or a hurtful statement can be mended. Romanticism preaches this fact: the right to chose allows absolutely anything to be done. Despite greed, mistakes, and repercussions, one can dig their way out of any hole. From something as small as taking a cookie to something as large as getting a job as an adult, with one’s freedom, anything can be done.