Bloodcurdling Tales: The Outsider

the-outsider

Much more efficient and introspective than “The Picture in the House,” “The Outsider” functions as Lovecraft’s perverse version of “The Allegory of the Cave.” His usual nameless protagonist, a man living in a castle but with no memory of how or when he got there, shows great interest in seeing light and the outside world. As in “Allegory,” this attraction to escaping the dark confines of ignorance gives rise to the self. Plato and Socrates’ inhabitant is unaware of himself as a man, Lovecraft’s unaware of himself as an undead creature. Interestingly, Lovecraft subtly flips the dynamic: the man in “Allegory” is a virtual blank slate, only developing a self when thrust (through no will of his own) into the world outside his cave; “The Outsider,” however, seems learned despite only having knowledge from moldy scraps left in the structure he occupies, and shows some awareness of the concept of a wider world (“Beings must have cared for my needs, yet I can not recall any person except myself”), which inspires him to ascend his dank surroundings–spirit precedes action. Coupled with the slight autobiographical touches (Lovecraft referred to himself as an “outsider,” and believed himself ugly, as his ghoulish avatar here discovers himself to be), Lovecraft shows a rare sympathy towards his monsters rather than outright horror and disgust, sharing in his Outsider’s loneliness. It’s a major signpost as he moved away from grisly shocks and into the realm of personal, poetic, existential dread.

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