Summaries of “Prophetic Pictures” and “The Oval Portrait”

Summaries by Samantha Marinelli

Painting is an artist’s imagination coming to life, and Nathaniel Hawthorne looks through an imaginative lens as he describes the journey of the painter in his short story “Prophetic Pictures.”  In this short story Hawthorne depicts a painter who uses his incredible and rare skills to paint Walter Ludlow and his fiancé, Elinor.  The painter is very open about his talent and does not shy away from sharing his experiences.  Elinor even comments: “Yet if he has such magic, there is something so gentle in his manner that I am sure he will use it well,” the magic referring to the artist’s creative ability.  She notices that the artist can use his imagination as well as his sense of reality in order to create a portrait that truly expresses the couple’s personalities.  The artist predicts their future in the painting as the husband becoming evil and the wife staying sad consistently, which ultimately comes true as the two look deeper into the picture over time.  They imagined the worst and the worst became of them, just as the painter imagined the possible outcomes and let it come to life on his canvas and eventually in reality.

In Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” he hits the reader with a powerful line at the very end: “This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!”  This short story is about a man who is taken in after being injured, but more significantly it is about the portrait that the man later notices in his delirium inside the house.  The portrait is of a girl from the shoulders up and the man reads about the portrait, and the book describes her with so much life and gives background on her relationship to the painter: his wife.  However painter allowed his excitement about his portrait to get the best of him, his imagination took over and he locked his wife in a tower with him so that he could finish.  By the end of the portrait he thought that the image was so life-like, and it was, because she had died during his work.  Poe show’s a negative view of imagination here because it can link to an obsession.  The painter’s desire for this portrait to fulfill his imagined idea completely took over his life, and ended up taking his wife’s life.  Unlike in “Prophetic Pictures,” imagination and creativity can also be an evil.  Instead of predicting an outcome for people as a warning, although failing ultimately, the portrait described by Poe captures the physical imaginative and obsessive characteristics of a person, leaving them with a less than desirable outcome, in this case a dead wife.

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