The Beast in the Cave Summary
The Beast in the Cave is an interesting short story written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1905. The short story tells the tale of a traveler who is on a trip to a strange limestone cave. The speaker is travelling with a group but out of the writer’s own curiosity he decides to break away from the guided tour to conduct a personal tour of his own. As he plunges deeper into the limestone mines he realizes he is lost and as the darkness of the cave and diminishing light from his torch goes out, he plunges deeper in misery and at some point almost gives up. Upon realizing that he is lost the speaker starts to contemplate on his end and fore coming death. The cave had a dark history considering the fact that a community of people who had taken advantage of the natural shelter, purified air and other amenities away from the whole world had settled in the caves but had perished after a long existent in the scary caves. When the speaker realizes that he has reached a dead end in his search for the tour party, he decides the best course of action is to scream for help. The scream does not reach the targeted audience, instead it attracts another long term tenant of the scary cave.
The beast in the cave is hard to describe with the dimming light from the spent batteries. The creature approaches the speaker by walking on fours or twos and instead of the clanking shoes, the creature walks slowly and stealthily. It is at this point that the speaker realizes that the approaching creature is not a man but a beast hell bent on attacking him. The speaker gets defensive and collects sharp rocks to act as missiles in case of attack from the creature. At this time the torch has fully gone dark and the scary silence at the caves enables the speaker to pin point the location of the creature and in a defensive mood hurls the rocks at the creature’s position. The first stone hits the creature and harms it, the second rock incurs more damage as the creature starts to breathe more slowly and intensely. The speaker takes this chance to run to the direction where he hopes for safety. Lucky for him the tour guide had noticed his absence and tracked his steps to where he was last. They retrace their steps to identify the type of creature that had attacked the speaker. They find it is a thin and bony creature covered in white hair. When the creature turns his head to their direction, it is clear that is not a magical or scary being as once thought by the author. The creature starts to croak as he finds his lost voice and from his face it is clear that this creature was once human.
Formalist Critical Review
The short story by Lovecraft will be critically evaluated using the formalist criticism approach. The formalist criticism approach considers a literary piece like The Beast in the Cave as a unique situation experienced by an individual that needs to be analyzed based on the unique experience and environment of the person. The analysis will entail examining elements of literature such as setting, character, structure, theme, and context. These literary elements are used widely in the Lovecraft short story.
The story of the Beast in a Cave is intentionally set in a scary scene. In particular, the main story revolves on the author being stuck in scary cave that has no end. His torch batteries run out of charge leaving him in the dark. This setting is used to illustrate the desperation of the author to get himself out of the dangerous situation that he finds himself in (Lovecraft 2). The revelation that his torch batteries run out of charge shows that it is almost impossible for him to get out of this situation and he may easily be stuck in the cave for a long time. To make the setting even scarier, the author mentions that suddenly there is some commotion and movements of an approaching being in the cave. This setting shows that danger is lurking in the cave and the author may easily be harmed by the creatures that leave in such a horrific place.
The author creatively uses imagery to make the reader connect with the scene of the story.
“…, I set up a series of loud shoutings, in the vain hope of attracting the attention of the guide of my clamour. Yet, as I called, I believed in my heart that my cries were to no purpose, and that my voice, magnified and reflected by the numberless ramparts of the black maze about me, fell upon no ears save my own.” (Lovecraft 2)
This statement shows the desperation of the author. The description of his voice is used to show the desperate situation that he was in. This description shows his relentless efforts to get himself out of the dangerous situation that he was in.
The author creatively uses symbolism to enable the reader understand the changes in his environment. In particular, the author uses symbolism to show how the mysterious creature slowly and steadily approaches him. “Now the steady pat, pat, of steps was close at hand…” (Lovecraft 4) These words show that the mysterious creature was approaching the author. The main importance of the use of these symbols is to enable the reader visualize what the author was experiencing. “…, yet the instinct of self-preservation, never wholly dormant, was stirred in my breast, and though escape…” (Lovecraft 3). In this statement, the author uses the words “stirred in my breast” to symbolize that he was willing to fight all danger that he was facing in order to preserve his life.
“ Then I remembered with a start that, even should I succeed in felling my antagonist, I should never behold its form, as my torch had long since been extinct, and I was entirely unprovided with matches.” The statement “unprovided with matches” is sarcastic since it is obvious that based on the authors circumstances, he could not have a match.
The author is portrayed as a hero. His ability to defeat the mysterious creature shows that he is courageous and can find his way out of any trouble that he is faced with. In addition, the inability to retrace his path shows that he is knowledgeable and insightful. To illustrate the impossibility of a person retracing his way from the cave, the author starts the story by sharing of the stories he had heard on the impossibility of finding a lost person. “ I remembered the accounts which I had heard of the colony of consumptives, which taking their residence in this gigantic grotto to find health from the apparent salubrious air of the underground world, with its steady, death in strange and ghostly form.” (Lovecraft 2). Contrary to ordinary situations, the author fought the mysterious creature and retraced his steps. “Almost overpowered by the great relief which rushed over me, I reeled back against the wall. The breathing continued, in heavy gasping inhalations and expirations, whence I realized I had no more than a wounded creature.” (Lovecraft 3). These statements show that the author had successfully overcome the mysterious creature that was hiding in the cave. In addition, he successfully managed to get himself out of the cave and find the tour guide. “This time there was no doubt. It was the guide.” (Lovecraft 3).
This paper has some element of conflict in the most appropriate actions for the author. For example, the author is unaware of whether to attach the mysterious creature or whether to wait and see it. Given that the creature walks on two legs, he somehow thinks that the creature can be a person. Unfortunately, this being also moves using all four limbs, which, makes it difficult for him to make a decision. In this dilemma, the author decides to take a more cautionary move and defend himself from this mysterious creature. “Most of the time, the tread seemed to be that of a quadruped, walking with a singular lack of unison betwixt hind and fore feet, yet at brief and infrequent intervals I fancied that but two feet were engaged in the process of locomotion. I wondered what species of animal was to confront me…” (Lovecraft 4)
The author also uses sarcasm to narrate the story and make it more interesting. Sarcasm enables the author to relieve most of the tension in the story and create humor. This element is important in making the story enjoyable. In the scene that the author confronts the mysterious creature, the author uses sarcasm by stating probably God has found a less painful way of taking his life instead of letting him starve to death. “I was now convinced that I had by my own cried aroused and attracted some wild beast, perhaps a mountain lion, which had accidentally strayed within the cave. Perhaps, I considered, the Almighty had chosen for me a swifter and more merciful death than that of hunger…” (Lovecraft 2-3). Obviously, death of any type is not pleasing; therefore, this statement is an element of sarcasm that has been purposefully used to relieve tension.
The story has a great element of suspense. “ I resolved to leave no stone unturned, no possible means of escape neglected, so summoning all the powers possessed by my lungs, I set up a series of loud shoutings, in the vain hope of attracting the attention of the guide by my clamour.” (Lovecraft 2). In fact, the story starts with a suspense where the reader wonders if the author will eventually find his way out of the cave. This suspense is heightened by the fact that his calls for help do not attract any of his fellow tour party, instead they attract a mysterious creature. “I was now convinced that I had by my own cries aroused and attracted some wild beast, perhaps a mountain lion, which had accidentally strayed within the cave.” (Lovecraft 2). In the scene where the author confronts the mysterious creature, there is suspense on whether he will be able to overcome this being or if he will be killed. “Seeing therefore that I must be armed for defense against an uncanny and unseen attack in the dark, I groped about me the largest of the fragments of rock which were stewn upon all parts of the floor of the cavern in the vicinity, and grasping on in each hand for immediate use, awaited with resignation the inevitable result.” (Lovecraft 2).
The entire story revolves around the central theme of the author retracing his steps from the dangerous cave. This story does not deviate from this theme in any part. The story starts with the author acknowledging that he has strayed so far from the rest of the team and there is little hope that he will be saved. “The horrible conclusion which had been gradually obstructing itself upon my confused and reluctant mind was now an awful certainty. I was lost, completely, hopelessly lost in the vast and labyrinthine recess of the Mammoth Cave.” (Lovecraft 1). In fact the scene where the author fights the mysterious creature is portrayed as his way of overcoming any obstacle that may prevent him from realizing his desires. Eventually, the author is able to kill the mysterious creature. “Almost overpowered by the great relief that came over me, I reeled back against the wall. The breathing continued, in heavy, gasping inhalations and expirations, whence I realized that I had no more than wounded the creature. And now all desires to examine the thing ceased… instead I ran at full speed in what was, as nearly as I could estimate in my frenzied condition, the direction from which I had come.” (Lovecraft 3). He is lucky that the tour guide finds him when he runs out of the cave and he saves him. “I ran to meet the flare, and before I could completely understand what had occurred, was lying upon the ground at the feet of the guide, embracing his boots and gibbering, despite my boasted reserve, in a most meaningless and idiotic manner, pouring out my terrible story, and at the same time overwhelming my auditor with protestations of gratitude.”
In conclusion, the Beast Cave incorporates various elements of writing with an aim of making the story more captivating and enjoyable to the customer. Moreover, the use of this elements enable the author to easily follow through the issued raised by the author. The use of elements such as sarcasm and suspense enables the author to easily narrate the story. In particular, using the elements of suspense, he is able to capture the reader’s attention. In this regard, the title of the article Beast Cave fits the essay. The entire story revolves about the authors encounter with the beast. Although the antagonist is referred to as “beast” he is in fact a man or once used to be a man. In this regard, the title, Beast Cave is in itself sarcastic since the beast is a human being.
Lovecraft, Howard. “The Beast in the Cave”. The Vagrant, vol. 7, no. 1, 1918, pp. 1–4.