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'Hark ye yet again--the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the loving act, the doubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the moldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the White Whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the White Whale agent, or be the White Whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.'
These words of Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick" could just as easily be said by the narrator of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." For, "That inscrutable thing is chiefly what" the narrator hates as he kills the old man for the hideous blue eye. This narrator,too, perceives the darker side of nature. In a reversal of the Romantic hero, Poe's narrator, like Ahab, perceives the object of nature, not as a force of beauty and inspiration, but as an antagonist, a force working against the narrator. He images that this eye stares at him unceasingly; his inner experience is what drives his dark, disturbed actions, the "terrors that distracted me."
While Captain Ahab, who is also disturbed, believes that he can discover truth lying behind mere reality by "breaking through "pasteboard mask," penetrating the secrets of nature. Poe's narrator also hopes to penetrate behind the "vulture eye" that he sees in the old man:
I saw it with perfect distinctness--all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow of my bones.
In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," nature is similarly a sinister, ghoul-like and inscrutable force. The headless horseman waits for Ichabod Crane, a "phantom of the mind that walks in darkness." This horseman becomes the darker side of nature to Mr. Crane, the Romantic hero, who is an unlikely candidate as he is not perceptive, nor in accord with nature. However, since Romanticism emphasizes the dream, or inner, world of the individual, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and its visionary and fantastic images fit into the genre, although Ichabod's experience is more humorous than disturbing. In fact, Washington Irving seems to be having fun with the concept of the importance of the individual experience:
Away then they [the headless horseman and Crane] dashed, through thick and thin; stones fling, and sparks flashing at every bound. Ichabod's flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lank body away over his horse's head, in the eagerness of his flight.
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