In a nutshell, ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with human behavior and how people should live. Ethics deals with the capability to determine what is right or wrong. There are many ways to investigate ethics. There are many ways that can be used to determine if a decision made was the most ethical thing to do.
There are many ways that can be used to achieve that goal but an interesting method is to develop a short story to deal with ethical issues. This technique was used in the development of The Pond (Munro, 2000) and Tell-Tale Heart (Poe, 2004). These two stories examine the thoughts and feelings of someone who wanted to do something unethical.
In Munro’s The Pond there are at least three ethical issues. First of all, the heroine in the story contemplated suicide. She was always fascinated with death. She kept on talking about death in the same way that a person talks about their chauffeur that was about to fetch them. In other words she made people understand that at any moment the Angel of Death will come and whisk her away. Her morbid fascination with death graduated to suicidal thoughts when she married a man who did not share her interest in the spiritual realm.
Her husband pushed her to the breaking point because they had very little in common. She realized this problem a few days after her marriage. Their thoughts occupy different spheres. She was interested in the unseen while her husband was focused on the practical aspects of life.
He reasoned out that life has many troubles. His philosophy is supported by various events in his life as a farmer and businessman. He had to contend with different types of problems, from government related difficulties to pest control troubles in his farm.
His indifference towards his wife brings to the surface the second ethical issue. The secondary problem is related to an ethical dilemma with regards to the responsibility of the husband to provide and care for the family. It is an ethical dilemma because the husband is supposed to work hard in order to provide food, clothing and shelter for wife and children.
However, the wife and the children made demands beyond the scope of physical needs. They also demanded emotional fulfillment through the interactions in a husband and father relationship. The added demand is a problem because it requires time to take care of the farm and create a system that will yield a profit. However, it also requires time to establish an emotional connection with the family.
The problems at home brought to the surface the third ethical issue in the story. The other issue was not developed fully but it can be argued that the heroine of the story was so unhappy with the marriage that she wanted a way out. The conventional and legal way to break-up a marriage was not available to Mona and John.
If they lived in the big city, perhaps they could have availed of a legal remedy. But since they were in a rural area, marriage was expected to last for a lifetime and only death can separate them. It is the inability to find a solution to her predicament that led Mona to contemplate suicide. It has been made clear that these three different ethical dilemmas were all related to each other.
Munro investigated the ethical issues not by pointing out the best way to deal with the problem. The author presented the different aspects of the ethical issues and provides a framework for the reader to understand why it is called a dilemma. In other words, Munro found a way to examine the different components of the ethical problem to demonstrate that human beings are prone to these problems not because they are inherently bad, but because of the circumstances that they cannot control. Nevertheless, this does not suggest that suicide is an acceptable behavior. The moral of the story is that it is important to determine the underlying factors before judgment is made.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart there are two major ethical issues. The first one is the desire to kill a person not because of self-defense but fear. The action of the killer is questioned because of the motive. In most societies, the murder of a person is acceptable only on one condition and that is self-defense. The ability to take away the life of another is so contemptible that it is justified to kill to prevent the murder of an innocent person. Therefore, there is no greater sin than to murder an innocent man.
In the Tell-Tale Heart the man’s obsession to murder his employer was not only despicable it can be considered as an act of lunacy. This impression comes early in the reading of the story that the narrator himself became defensive and stated that it is unfair to judge his mental state and compare it to those who belong to the psychiatric ward of a hospital. But there is no other explanation for his bazaar behavior. He was the one who divulged that he had no ill-feeling toward his victim.
It is interesting to point out that in the examination of the ethical dilemma faced by the murderer he had to find a justification for his action. Thus, the author wanted to demonstrate that those who are guilty will always have the burden to prove their case.
Those who have nothing to hide are not bothered by this need. But those who are guilty, the need to clarify their motives and the need to present the rationale for their action forced them to find someone who can empathize with them. It is illustrated in the story through the manic behavior of the killer.
The killer said that he was nervous and this confession reminds the reader that the business of taking away another person’s life is never going to be a pleasant experience. The author made it clear that a murderer is still a human being and subjected to the same emotional burdens that accompany an action that is considered barbaric in many cultures.
However, the author also illustrated the reason why a murderer continues with the plan even when confronted with vexed emotions and other factors that make it extremely difficult to carry out the plan.
In the story the author pointed out that the fear of being caught and the fear of legal repercussion is overpowered by the nagging feeling of discomfort that only the killer can understand. In this particular case, the killer feared the “eye” of the victim.
He was so frustrated and so uncomfortable every time the victim gazes at him. It created in him such a level of discomfort that the only way to relieve that pain and to correct the problem is to find a way to close the eye forever. There is no other option for him other than to take away the life of his employer.
The second ethical issue that was addressed in the story is the problem when it comes to covering up the crime. The negative feeling of covering up the deed is linked to the consequences if the perpetrator of the crime is apprehended by the authorities. The killer succeeded in eliminating what he believed was a threat to his well-being. However, the eradication of his employer will have no value if he is apprehended by the authorities. Thus, the same energy used to commit the crime was the same energy expended for the cover-up.
One can just imagine the stress and the anxiety that the killer felt as he worked overnight and overtime to conceal the crime. He said that he worked with the speed of the wind but he was able to accomplish all of that in silence. There is no need to elaborate how difficult it is to work without creating a sound.
Pulling out the planks from the floor in a normal manner is a tremendously difficult task. But if one will add another requirement, which is to remove the boards without creating a sound to alert the neighbor, it will require double effort. There is the need to apply strength to remove the board and another extra effort not to let any vibration or collision of objects in order to prevent unnecessary noise.
The author illustrated the difficulty felt by the murderer before the crime was committed and after the criminal act was brought to completion. The author did not only provide a way to present an ethical dilemma but also made it clear that the criminals suffer from the consequences of their actions. They suffer not only from the legal ramifications of their actions but also from the torment that they received from a conscience that bothers them continuously.
The secondary problem discussed in the story is the difficulty of covering up the crime. The killer experiences changes in demeanor as well as thought patterns. In this particular case, the killer was so distraught about the whole criminal act that he was forced to the brink of a mental breakdown. He tried to keep it under control. But when the investigators came to pay him a visit, everything was unraveled. He could no longer control his emotions and he began to see and hear things.
The author made it clear that guilt as a result of a non-resolution of an ethical dilemma or the violation of an ethical standard can result in unpleasant mental and emotional effects. The conscience of that person will continue to hound him until he can no longer deal with the consequences of his actions.
Ethical dilemmas were present in both stories. The main characters were faced with problems that made them emotionally and mentally unstable. Both authors attempted to point out that there is an underlying reason why a person is forced to commit a crime or to break a particular ethical standard. Munro and Poe did not develop a legal discourse in order to show the difference between acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.
They used a different strategy to investigate the ethical dilemmas in the story. They made it clear that an unacceptable behavior can make life difficult for the person. But indirectly, they were able to show that it is important to find out the reason behind an action because most of the time people are forced to violate an ethical standard to find relief to an emotional or mental struggle.
Munro, S. (2000). The pond. Retrieved from http://haytom.us/showarticle.php?id=134
Poe, E. (2004). The tell-tale heart. Retrieved from http://www.literature.org/authors/poe-edgar-allan/tell-tale-heart.html