Gothic Literature: the Fascination with Terror

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Traci L. Pugh
Dr. Amber Reagan-Kendrick
ENG 45023-SU-2012-OA Seminar in American Literature
8 August 2012
Gothic Literature: The Fascination with Terror
People have an intrinsic fear of the dark and the unknown. While each person’s level of anxiety and object of terror are different, the fascination to reveal them has inspired Gothic authors such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, and Stephenie Meyer for three centuries. Subjects of these classic tales include vampires, reanimation of the dead, ghosts, murder, witches, and love. These stories and poems can terrify audiences because they can encompass reality of things people cherish with a twist of the impossible. Gothic writers use terror, mystery, and excitement to probe the dark aspects of life by exposing inner human fear.

Mary Shelley was a Romantic Gothic author, and it is speculated that Frankenstein symbolizes “internal conflicts and life experiences with what may have been their manifestations in the fictionalized characters she created” (D’Amato 117). She was orphaned at an early age, and death was no stranger to her due to the deaths of her sister and her husband’s first wife. Mary feared giving birth, mainly because her mother died eleven days after giving birth to her, but D’ Amato proposes that she “may have believed any child she produced would inherit the repressed, hated, and destructive parts of herself” (122). Shelley’s work may have mirrored her life, but it was common for Gothic authors of this time to write about “the nation’s dreams, and their own” (“Gothic Undercurrents”).

The early nineteenth century was a time of fear due to rapid changes in the nation: abolition, the Great Depression, war, and the bank crisis. These events gave Americans the feeling that “life was an experiment that had gone horribly wrong,” and these writers explored this fear with prose (“Gothic Undercurrents”). This newfound style of writing exposed the dark side of humanity, but it also...
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