Elements of American Gothic

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Gothic is a genre of literature "characterized by a gloomy setting, grotesque, mysterious, or violent events, and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay".[1] American Gothic is a genre of literature that combines the Gothic with American ideals.

In looking at American Gothic literature, there are certain common elements that will shine through the text and help one to distinguish the genre of the book. Below are some of the common elements.

Elements[edit]

Night journeys are a common element seen throughout Gothic literature. They can occur in almost any setting, but in American literature are more commonly seen in the wilderness, forest or any other area that is devoid of people.

Evil characters are also seen in Gothic literature and especially American Gothic. Depending on the time period that the work is written about, the evil characters could be characters like Native Americans, trappers, gold miners etc . . .

American Gothic novels also tend to deal with a madness in one or more of the characters and carry that theme throughout the novel. In his novel Edgar Huntly or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, Charles Brockden Brown writes about two characters who slowly become more and more deranged as the novel progresses.[2]

Miraculous survivals are elements within American Gothic literature in which a character or characters will somehow mangage to survive some feat that should have led to their demise.

In American Gothic novels it is also typical that one or more of the characters will have some sort of supernatural powers. In Brown's Edgar Huntly or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, the main character, Huntly, is able to face and kill not one, but two panthers.

An element of fear is another characteristic of American Gothic literature. This is typically connected to the unknown and is generally seen throughout the course of the entire novel. This can also be connected to the feeling of despair that characters within the novel are overcome by. This element can lead characters to commit heinous crimes. In the case of Brown's character Edgar Huntly, he experiences this element when he contemplates eating himself, eats an uncooked panther and drinks his own sweat.

Psychological overlay is an element that is connected to how characters within an American Gothic novel are affected by things like the night and their surroundings. An example of this would be if a character was in a maze like area and a connection was made to the maze that their minds represented.

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