A common element of the power of one`s mental state over his actions in a given situation emerge in all of the four works.The apparent themes of the four works discussed here can be placed into two groups. Edgar Allan Poe`s "The Cask of Amontillado" and Robert Browning`s "My Last Dutchess" involve the idea of punishing with impunity, both having main characters into whose mental workings readers have access to. Barbara Hamby`s "Ode to American English" and Tony Hoagland`s "America" both discuss contemporary American culture and how it is recieved cognitively by individuals.
Both Poe`s short story and Browning`s poem tell tales of individuals towards the end of what had to have been a long internal struggle, ultimately ending in murder. Although Browning`s poem take place after the murder and Poe`s story is of the murder occurring, the general concept remains the same. Both murderers felt as though they had been wronged and needed to do something about it. An arrogance within both characters appears here as both believe that murder is appropriate retribution for mere social wrongdoings. In fact, Poe never even specifies what exactly Fortunado did to deserve his fate, only hinting that it was some sort of insult. Rather he focused on Montesor`s internal struggle to formulate such a plan that would allow him to punish without impunity, to get complete vengeance without facing consequences. Again, simply in believing that he has the power to do something of this nature reveals arrogance. Browning, on the other hand, did not even have to come up with a plan, simply giving the order to get rid of his duchess was enough. Both murderers unndergo severe mental hardships and eventually reach a breaking point.
American culture is used to illustrate similar ideas in "Ode to America" and "America." However, this is about as far deep as similarities amongst the two poems go. Hamby`s poem looks upon everything American with a strong sense of yearning and nostalgia, while Hoagland`s tells of a young man who feels trapped in this same culture. Hoagland`s poem is definately the more serious of the two, especially in the final couplet. The idea that many Americans become so absorbed in popular culture and choose to "turn the voume higher" on the problems of those around them clarifies itself here. This is certainly true, and ties in well with the Jesuit idea of solidarity and option for the poor. While Hamby`s poem provides little conflict in comparison to Hoagland`s, it bolsters Hoagland`s theory of how Americans often drown in culture. Nearly each line of Hamby`s poem provides some insight into contemporary America culture, whether it be sports cars, entertainment icons, or regional vernacular.
Each poem clearly provides some sort of cognitive dilemma within the main character or speaker. In Poe`s and Browning`s works, I would argue that neither dealt with their problems properly. While each may have been legitamately wronged, their courses of action were too severe. However, this rationale was ruled out by both due to their belief in punishment with impunity. A lesson appears here as to how to interpret feelings and how to respond to these feelings. The power of the mind and its ability to control our actions are undisputable in both Poe`s story and Browning`s work. Even Hoagland`s work suggests that perhaps that student does feel trapped in American culture, at least he is not being trampled by it. Things could be (and are for many people) worse. Respect for others and a moral responsibility to help out those in need should take priority over whatever mental struggles we may be encountering.