Literary Comparison Term Paper

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Supernatural tales of death and jealousy: Edgar Allen Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" and Robert Olen Butler's "Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot"

Both Edgar Allen Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" and Robert Olen Butler's "Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot" use supernatural plots to highlight the intense emotions human beings often feel about common and ordinary subjects, namely death and the loss of a loved one to someone else. Poe's tale is written in the style of American Romanticism, and uses highly ornate language and a European setting to create an atmosphere of death, misery and decay. Poe's tale begins strangely, and becomes even stranger as the narrative wears on. The final appearance by death as a masked figure at a costume ball makes the allegorical theme of the story horrifyingly real -- not even the wealthy can escape sickness and the inevitability of death. Butler's tale begins in a way that seems utterly surreal to the modern reader, even more so than Poe's narrative. However, the colloquial voice of the parrot gives it a greater sense of immediacy and realism than is present in Poe, and also a greater sense of pathos, despite its allegorical content. Eventually, the reader comes to sympathize with the figure of the parrot, who cannot communicate with his wife, no matter how hard he tries to speak her language.

It may seem strange to call a Poe story ordinary in any fashion, especially in terms of
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his subject matter. However, it should be remembered that Poe wrote during the 19th century, when death by disease was far more common than in our own century, particularly death by epidemic disease. Poe's complex diction seems especially intense modern readers, because of the fact he comes from a different era. The image of aristocrats living in decadent circumstances during a plague in Europe would have been more believable, if remote, to his American readers. However, Butler's interjection of supernatural and heightened elements is utterly bizarre from the outset, even more so than a European plague. In an ordinary pet shop, a husband's soul has become grafted onto the soul of a parrot. Death becomes moderately heightened by the initial royal setting of the Poe and the diction, but the loss of a loved one, something everyone has experienced, and jealousy, takes on a supernatural quality from the beginning of the Butler story, with the bizarre 'parrot' narration.

The narrative voice is perhaps the most unique feature of the Butler story, and is the main reason for its strange tone, perhaps even more so than its premise. Poe's story is told in a 3rd person omniscient narrator, as if the storyteller is observing the events from a distance, or hearing what he heard about the end of Prince Prospero's masque during the time of the Red Death. However, Butler's husband speaks of himself as a parrot, without marveling as to how odd his plight may seem. He is both a parrot who likes having his feathers ruffled, and also a man who can still gaze at his wife with desire. The language of the story is supremely…

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Works Cited

Butler, Robert Olen. "Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot." Fiction from Web Del Sol. 22 Feb 2008. http://www.webdelsol.com/butler/rob-5.htm

Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Masque of the Red Death." Online Literature. 22 Feb 2008. http://www.online-literature.com/poe/36

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