Analysis Essay on Gothic Literature

Published: 2021-08-16
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Sewanee University of the South
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Research paper
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Gothic literature is all about mystery, suspense, gloom, and horror. Most Gothic literature involves dramatic scenes of necrophilia, nameless terror, diabolism, and incest. Gothic fiction has combined with feminism to provide a platform where writers protest against perceived discrimination and subjugation of women. This essay will illustrate that medieval literature has been a powerful tool for advancing gender equality throughout its history. This task analyzes how feminists have used gothic literature to criticize societal norms that underlie the gender discrimination. There is the need of exploring gothic literature and characteristics that distinguish the genre from other literary styles and analyzing how feminist have been able to use gothic devices to advance their protest against the subjugation of women in society.Gothic literature consists of a series of works that exhibit characteristics unique to the genre. One of the most common features is gothic stories the castle which is sometimes replaced with old ruined buildings. In many gothic narratives, castles are an essential part of authors plot (Smith, 8). Medieval literature also tends to arouse melancholy through spooky features such as basements, catacombs, dungeons, dark corridors, attics, winding stairs, and labyrinths. Gothic literature also makes creative use of lighting and shadow. Often, gothic literature will refer to beams of light in dark passages, flickering lights and blown out candles as the only sources of light.

Gothicism is also obsessed with extreme landscapes such as thick forests, rugged mountains and icy wastelands (Smith 12). In many cases, gothic literature combines extreme landscapes with severe weather. Gothic literature also features supernatural manifestations and reference to ancestral curses and omens. The characters in gothic literature also have mysterious characteristics. In many gothic novels, the plot is based on a passion driven villain or hero. Female heroines often find themselves in a situation where they need to be rescued and have a tendency to faint (Lanser 418). Gothic novels are also more likely to have mysterious heroes whose identity is revealed at the end of the story.

The features of gothic literature discussed above are evidence of the suspense, mystery, and gloom that characterize gothic stories. Also, Gothicism tends to go against convention with many stories crossing the boundaries of life and death, daylight, and dark, consciousness and unconsciousness back and forth (Lanser 420). According to Smith, Gothic literature is littered with social chaos, transgression, emotional collapse, fears of violation and taboos (12). Gothic literature is easily identifiable as it creates a horror and dreads unique to this genre. It is this dread and fear that feminist gothic literature uses to protest against the treatment of women in patriarchal society (Lanser 417).

Many gothic novels protest against the sexual repression of women that is apparent in our society. Charlotte Gilmans the yellow wallpaper is full of symbolic protests against sexual oppression (Lanser 422). The story refers to a chained-down bed and sexual oppression at nursery bars. The novel protests at the subjugation of women to the roles of mother or wife. According to Lanser, the highest position a woman can rise in patriarchal society is angel of the house (416). The life of the female narrator in the story is completely controlled by male characters. At one point she is forced to move to the countryside without being consulted. Once in the countryside she is locked up in a nursery and forbidden from writing. The novel's depiction of a locked up woman shows that society is getting worse in the way it is treating women (Gilman 328). The situation for the narrator worsens when she moves from the figurative prison of the wife/mother role to the physical lockdown in the attic of the summerhouse.

The similar feminist protest is also apparent in Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Radcliffe and Dobree condemn the locking away of the female narrator in a foreign land where she is surrounded by violence and vice (232). Hoeveler points out that the women in Radcliffes novel have little power over their fate in a society characterized by oppressive patriarchal power (34).

Authors have also used gothic devices to illustrate how patriarchal power destroys the identity of women. The narrator in the Gilman keeps a secret to the end of the novel in line with gothic traditions where objects are concealed (328). The hidden object in this story is used as a clue to point to the loss of personal identity when the lives of women are controlled by patriarchs. Other novels that build on gothic conventions to tell the story of oppression include the Little Stranger (2009) written by Susan Waters. Waters follows the precedent of other gothic writers including Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurie (Lanser 422). In these novels, the plot revolves around women who have been cast out, estranged, held back, hidden or even killed for daring to challenge gender discrimination and engendered roles.

The Little Stranger (2009) is one of the novels that cleverly use gothic devices to critique the subjugation of women in contemporary society. Waters is inspired by the writings of Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert that protested against narratives that entrap and destroy the lives of women (Moers 126). Waters tells the story of the story of three female characters Caroline Ayres, Mrs. Ayres and Betty. All the characters are depicted as being trapped between the damage of the past and the challenges of the present. Women in the story have to contend with inequality in education and work. Waters points that outdated conventional gender roles are holding back the women in the novel.

Protest against the subjugation of women can be traced to early gothic works. Emily Brontes novel was written in a period where women were hampered by patriarchal gender narratives (Bronte 27). Ladies in the 1800s were treated as pious, submissive, loving, serene and gentle domestic angels. Male authors often wrote of women in a patronizing, unempowering, smug and contemptuous tone. In 1850, George Henry Lewes wrote that women have no role in the sphere of writing (Johnston, 41). Instead, he contemptuously stated that they should be at home cuddling the lover, husbands, brothers or friends. In protest, many feminist gothic writers took up writing and cast women in heroin roles in their works.

Many Gothic works written by feminist within the genre depict a different type of female heroism. Casting women as heroes are an explicit rejection of the societys assumptions and expectation of female members. According to Ellen Moers, casting women as heroes is a form of literary feminism that was adopted by many gothic writers (128). Women heroines take many forms in gothic novels, such as woman-in-love heroine, thinking or intellectual hero or a traveling heroine. The characters in Bronte utilize the passionate heroin which is an expression of protest and transcends boundaries that are taboo.

Gothic literature has also used fantasies and violation of conventional moral boundaries to protest against gender inequality. Brontes novel is filled with bizarre expressions of passion, incest, adultery and revenge (Moers 344). Women are also involved in murder, warfare, and vengeance which were the preserve of men during this period. Female characters are also cast as having passions, imaginations, and aspirations that put them emotionally on par with men in their society.

The struggle for equal consideration and opportunity for women has come a long way. Gothic literature has proved to be one of the best literary platforms for feminist writers to express protest against the subjugation of women (Moers 3445). Earlier novels condemned the depiction of women as domestic angels that were relegated to the roles of wife and mother. Gothic literature helps to illustrate that societal norms imprison the aspiration of women and hinder them from becoming all they can be.

In early gothic, literature protested at the attempt to keep women aware from the sphere of writing. Instead, feminist gothic works started to inspire the empowerment of women by casting them as heroines in their novels. They also increasingly portrayed women as an intelligent individual who is free to express their whole range of emotions and passions. Today there is a need for contemporary feminist gothic literature to continue the struggle for gender equality. Such literature would also help to fight the typical portrayal of women as a sex object in modern literature.

Works Cited

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering heights. Ignatius Press, 2008.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wallpaper. Slough Press, 1994. P. 328

Hoeveler, Diane Long. "The Construction of the Female Gothic Posture: Wollstonecraft's Mary and Gothic Feminism." Gothic Studies 6.1 (2004): 30-44.

Johnston, Judith. Anna Jameson: Victorian, feminist, woman of letters. Routledge, 2016.

Lanser, Susan S. "Feminist Criticism," The Yellow Wallpaper," and the Politics of Color in America." Feminist Studies 15.3 (1989): 415-441.

Moers, Ellen. "Female gothic." Gothic: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies (2004): 123-44.

Radcliffe, Ann Ward, and Bonamy Dobree. The mysteries of Udolpho. Oxford University Press, USA, 1980.

Smith, Andrew. Gothic literature. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.Waters, Sarah. The little stranger. Penguin, 2009.

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