The representation of gothic genre has remained the same since the introduction of the literature. This type of literature is about horror fiction with some episodes of romance (Sova). Gothic tale dates back to 1764 when it was introduced to the world of literature by Horace Walpole. During this time, the romance was not viewed the same way it is seen today and Horace used gothic fiction to bring out the terror in the changing romantic escapades. Much of the gothic fiction is about horror stories and has even been absorbed in the movie and entertainment industry; this is different from the time it was introduced as it was mainly found in print media. Various authors picked up the literary style and made a few changes to become what is seen today. One of these composers is Edger Allan Poe. He is a 19th-century author who made meaningful developments on gothic fiction as a result of his short stories. Some of his short stories include The Haunted Palace, The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat and The Fall of the House of Usher among others. Allan Poe’s works are the primary embodiment of gothic fiction; horror, romance, and supernatural events are the three main elements used in his short stories and poems.
Horror is the most used element in gothic fictions. This element is not only seen in Allan Poe’s literary works but also other works from different writers. Horror is that fearful or frightening painful feeling that is caused by witnessing or reading about a terrifying, revolting or shocking literary text. As one reads these documents, they begin to feel pity, pain, sorrow, and fear as it is experienced by the characters in the text. In the Allan Poe’s story titled The Fall of the House of Usher, he makes the reader come up with the story by the use of creative imagery. The setting and atmosphere of the story are horrifying. It is about madness, incest, and danger in the contemporary world. The crumbling house is a representation of madness and death or fall of the house of Usher. The house “crumbles into the deep and dark tarn” (Womak 12). One can vividly imagine the decaying house in this story without even seen it; this is the perfect example of symbolism as used by Poe. One can feel the helplessness experienced by the narrator in this story. “He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror” (Poe 10). This portion of the text explains the helpless in Roderick state as he is unable to use his eyes, which are affected by light, to see or sense Madeline’s arrival. Writers use gothic fiction to discourage the activities or specific behaviors in the contemporary society.
Horror and fear are cast down on the readers as they read The Fall of the House of Usher. This feeling is a common trait in most gothic fiction stories. For example, to describe the house of Usher, Poe says that “… a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because of poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked at the house before me… with an utter depression of soul which I can only compare to no earthly sensation” (Poe 738). There is a feeling of horror as he describes the house as they feel that there is nothing good that can come from it. Later, Roderick buries his sister alive after she falls into a trance. These actions are a result of his mental illness. Readers can imagine the kind of agony that she went through being buried alive by her brother. This agony and horror is the real definition of gothic as readers feel pity and fear for the victims. Horror is also witnessed in “The Tell-Tale Heart” where a young man so much hates the eye of the old man he used to live with until he kills him (Timmerman 159-172). He is later compelled to confess.
Night journeys and supernatural characters are other common elements in gothic literature. “Gothic writers have used supernatural elements… To entertain their readers” (Kennedy). The Raven is a supernatural gothic poem whereby a raven has the power to talk even though it is just through uttering one word. Supernatural writings or elements describe those events that are impossible or cannot be explained by the use of science and technology. An example is where a man can fly or use magic. In the raven story, ravens can communicate with humans; this is unheard of and impossible, and that is why it falls as the supernatural category. The young student, who is the main character in this poem, was mourning his dead mistress Lenore when the raven appeared at his window. When he asked the raven some questions, the answer was “nevermore” which added to the student’s sorrow. Though this word has no obvious meaning, the student enjoys asking the raven questions as a way of self-torture. The word is meaningless, but since it is in the human nature to torture self and find meaning to the meaningless, the student continues with the questions. Poe insists on the meaning of the word nevermore in stanza five with the words, “merely this and nothing more” after the student whispers “Lenore” in the darkness (Poe, The Raven). This poem does express not only supernatural elements but also romantic elements.
The setting of most gothic literary elements is romantic. This idea is illustrated in some Poe’s writings such as The Raven. In these stories, there is always a person who is in love with another, and they are forced to do something horrifying to be with their lovers. In The Raven, there is a dead mistress, Lenore; something that makes the student sorrowful and is mourning her when the raven arrives at the window. “Then, I thought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer Swung by Sephardim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor…respite… respite and the nepenthe from the memories of Lenore” (Poe, The Raven). The narrator is sorrowful for losing his lover, and he mourns and cries about her all night. He wants to reconnect with her but what he receives is a knock on the window by the raven. A raven is a supernatural creature which is associated with darkness and evil. Just like any other Poe story, he picks a subject that can impact affect or impact the audience in a way that they cannot encounter in their daily routines. Poe uses “allusions and structure from his reading of classical literature to inform his works with a classical worldview he sought in both life and art” (Unrue 112). This is to say that the real experiences are the ones that drive Poe’s literature. This is uncommon characteristics of the contemporary gothic literature as they use horrifying experiences and characters such as vampires and werewolves. Despite the developments in this field, the characters and meaning of gothic novel are still maintained in the modern literature.
In conclusion, Allan Poe’s works are the main embodiment of gothic fiction; horror, romance, and supernatural events are the three main elements used in his gothic short stories and poems. Supernatural elements are illustrated in The Raven where the narrator can talk to a bird, the raven. Also, horror is the central element in most gothic literature texts, and it is found in all of Poe’s writings. The readers are left imagining the kind of sorrow or pain the characters had to go through as experienced by the burial of Madeline in The Fall of the House of Usher. Romance is also another element in Poe’s literary works, and it is best illustrated in The Raven where the narrator is mourning the death of a lover when the raven appears. Since its introduction to literature, gothic fiction has grown from strength to strength, and modern composers have developed the use of fiction to include vampires and other supernatural beings. These developments highlight the growth of gothic fiction in the last three centuries. With the changes in policies and developments in technology, gothic literature is expected to keep advancing.
- Kennedy Patrick, Gothic Literature. 2017.
- Martha Womack. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. The press, No date. Pp. 12.
- Poe, Edgar Allan, and James Mason. The Tell-Tale Heart. John Fraser Associates, 2002.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. The fall of the House of Usher. BoD–Books on Demand, 2008.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven, Tales, and Poems. Wildside Press, 2003.
- Sova, Dawn B. Critical Companion to Edgar Allan Poe: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Infobase Publishing, 2007.
- Timmerman, John H. “House of Mirrors: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Other Stories-New Edition (2014): 159-172.
- Unrue, Darlene Harbour. “Edger Allan Poe: The romantic as Classicist.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 1.4. (1995): 112-119.