The Parricide Punished
The world of “The Parricide Punished” is somewhat of a mystery. This is because the author doesn’t really outline what the world is really like but what I could gather from just dialogue and setting, it’s a world that’s not in the heart of the medieval era; but towards its end. So there’s a resemblance of hierarchy, social structure, sophisticated societal practices like funerals and weddings and, authority figures that aren’t kings but are governors. The reason I say this is because the story takes place during a wedding, the old man in the story was imprisoned but there was a funeral to his honor, successfully faking his death; and, instead of threatening to tell the king the truth, the protagonist refers to “governor” and his authority. You could make the case that there could’ve been a king, just far away. I think that’s not valid since there are multiple references to M. de Vildac being a very respected, well off man. In fact, his father says that his funeral was “more solemn” than his inferiors. So in a world where kings rule, why would the author threaten to get the governor to help release the old man from his imprisonment, who is supposed to be one of the most respected people in the region?
The part of this society that we need to pay close attention to is the transference of estate and power. I’m keen to believe that M. de Vildac’s father left him his “future patrimony” with a practice similar to our practice of a will, because, there’s the story of another nobleman that M. de Vildac visited. This unnamed nobleman’s father passed away and was caught “encircled by his vassals,” which I think is often referred to getting paid by other people for loyalty and protection. Leading me to believe that this society may not have will practice. In both inheritance stories, we see it being passed on from father to son, with the theme of father and son being present throughout (see: “The Parricide Punished”). So, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am wrong and society is patriarchal anyway.
Another theme that is very present in this story is the theme of “guilt”. The old man doesn’t wish his granddaughter to ever experience it, M. de Vildac might be experiencing it in the opening scene of the story and it is guilt that forces the old man to see a vision of his bloodied father. But why does it take place during a wedding? Let’s break this down piece by piece.
“Ghosts” in the usual sense are normally used to signify emotional baggage of some kind. Hence, every ghost wants to “move on”. Weddings are usually symbols of new beginnings. So, the guilt of the past surfaces during a new beginning. This is further supported by the idea that the old man wished for Mademoiselle de Vildac to never feel guilt. But she can’t because the personification of the family guilt (the old man) had never met Mademoiselle de Vildac. She doesn’t even know he’s alive (of what we know). So to her, the guilt doesn’t exist. But it does with her father. Which is probably what was ailing him at the start of the story. So is this a traditional horror story?
The old man’s entrance into the story feels very traditional horror. Starting with descriptions of the sounds, then the room and lastly, the person. The author plays a lot with tension and builds it quite well. In addition to this, the old man reportedly saw his father “stretch forth his bloodied hands”. This is a traditional ghost sighting, similar to Hamlet.
The story went in a direction I wasn’t expecting though. I was hoping that the old man is the ghost of M. de Vildac’s father and the vision he saw alongside the story he told the author, was a description of what M. de Vildac did to him. Upon a second read, I realized this wasn’t the case, or maybe it is, not sure. What I am sure of, however, is the circumstance of the vision. The vision is nothing but an external projection of the old man’s inner guilt. Hence fitting perfectly with my interpretation of ghost stories. I feel this way because of something I call “The Musical factor”. In traditional musicals, people begin to dance and sing to externalize their inner emotions. This is exactly what I think happened with “The Parricide Punished”. The guilt got to a point that it physically manifested itself for the old man, who later, collapsed. Lastly, the thing that I think this story has which makes it synonymous with the horror genre is the idea of the evil getting its comeuppance.
That’s why I think this falls into a very traditional ghost story outline. It has the ghost, it has the “moving on” factor with the Old Man coming to terms with his guilt (unlike the bright UFO Spotlight from Disney’s Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy) and lastly, it has an old medieval castle. I think I should’ve started with that.