American Gothic: Elements of Gothic Fiction

Free «American Gothic: Elements of Gothic Fiction» Essay Sample

The works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe bear a significant amount of elements characteristic for gothic fiction. The obsessions with darkness and death within the short stories, novels and poems of these literary giants fall well within the gothic genre. Among the features of gothic literature that are evident in the works of these two authors are the atmosphere of mystery and suspense, omens and portents, overwrought emotions, and the metonymy of gloom and horror (Harris). These elements appear in the works of these two authors as will be displayed below.

In Hawthorne’s ‘The Birthmark’, the use of omens is evident within the structure of the story. Aylmer, the scientist with religious affiliations, has a problem with a mark on the cheek of his otherwise beautiful wife. This mark was an omen of evil within the countenance of his wife. To Aylmer, the sign symbolized her “liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death.” Aylmer had a perfect wife except for this hand-like scar on her cheek. This issue is exaggerated as he even wants it to be surgically removed. This has been used as an omen of evil within the story. Similarly, in Poe’s ‘The Oval Portrait’, the narrator makes the painting have the traits of an ominous symbol. He says he closed his eyes “to make sure that my vision had not deceived me.” This makes the painting have a mystic sense to its presence within the room within which he chose to sleep that night. These two stories bear this common gothic trait.


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Furthermore, the atmosphere is made to have suspense and mystery since the narrator of ‘The Oval Portrait’ describes his house as having a mysterious atmosphere and the personnel within Aylmer’s laboratory also gave the same essence. “A man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace” (Hawthorne) had been Aylmer’s assistant in his lab. His features were mysterious. This unkempt and abnormal stature of his assistant gave a dark visage of the activities that took place within the laboratory. The visage of this man does not give comfort to the hopes of the experiment taking place; neither does it serve to make the experiment look ethical. The house within which the narrator of ‘The Oval Portrait’ describes the house where he stays as he notes that it is night, the “bizarre architecture” of the house and lighting gives a mysterious feeling to the house. This aspect of gothic fiction within these stories is ascertained by these features.

Overwrought emotions within ‘The Oval Portrait’ and ‘The Birthmark’ are evident as regards various issues making the situations seem gothic. The feelings of distaste and anger against the scar on Georgina’s scar are overwrought by Aylmer. His dream was wrought with negative feelings against the scar. The dream ends but he says, “…before I fell asleep it had taken a pretty firm hold of my fancy.” Similarly, the narrator of ‘The Oval Portrait’ had a strong feeling of anger once the awe regarding the painting had faded. He said the painting had been the “cause of my deep agitation.” The feeling s against the scar by Aylmer, and the narrator’s agitation by the painting is out of proportions bringing out the darkness of gothic fiction.

The metonymy of gloom and horror is evident within ‘The Oval Portrait’ as ‘art’ is considered as the craft that engineered the sadness of the lady in the portrait making art seem as the cause of gloom in the story. The lady in the portrait is noted to have considered as loving everything and only “hating only the Art which was her rival.” Within the ‘The Birthmark’, the scar on Georgina’s face is used to symbolize evil or gloom. This pushes Aylmer to put her wife through an operation to remove it. These symbols have been used in these stories to symbolize gloom.

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