ph american gothic
American Gothic
Grant Wood (American, 1891-1941)
Friends of American Art Collection, 1930.

What is “the Gothic” in literature?

Of course, it cannot be explained through American Gothic Rock Bands such as Evanescence or Joy Division. In order to understand Gothic as a literary movement, it is crucial to give an ear to Allan Lloyd-Smith.

Allan Lloyd-Smith, a British scholar of 19th-century American literature, states in his book named American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction that the Gothic is “about the return of the past, of repressed and denied, the buried secret that subverts and corrodes the present, whatever the culture does not want to know or admit, will not or dare not tell itself.”

In American Literature, the Gothic, evolved from traditional English Gothic, has attracted attention of both readers and critics because it tries to evoke a kind of chilling terror. By all means, the feeling of terror is a source of pleasure. It is very close for people to watch horror movies and to read the Gothic.

Southern Gothic is the most popular genre above all. You have probably heard Edgar Allan Poe. So have many people! He is a standing figure for the movement. The Southern Gothic is a sub-genre of American Gothic. It is set in the American South that focuses on character, social, and moral flaws for the purpose of exploring the implications of the Southern experience.

Note down the list below to depict the elements of a Southern Gothic work:

  • There is always the idea of the past. It is known to romanticize the old. For instance, the setting is generally a haunted house or a graveyard with an unknown past in order to symbolize the idea of “time gone by.”
  • It aims to break the norms of its society. It is a reaction to the common and conventional. The work focuses on how hypocritical a community is.
  • The work is often dark and dreary in which the author can easily put his/her audience in the mood through its characters and places away from civilization.
  • There is a confusion of good versus evil. Dark and hidden side of the characters or places reveals throughout the plot.
  • Characters are often depicted as delusional, damaged or distorted both physically and psychologically. It is called “grotesque.” They stand for us, deformed in many ways to face the truth about oneself. Therefore, it becomes a private experience. The work is used to take people to self-recognition and awareness.
  • The reality flies away. There are supernatural elements, generally not seen in the setting; such as retold ghost stories in the work.
  • There is the theme of imprisonment and violence. Imprisonment is both literal and figurative, often caused by society. Violence includes historical tensions due to Civil War, and its reconstruction.

If you also are interested in the genre, plus want to have a reading experience as if you are watching a horror movie, it is suggested for you to read William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Carson McCullers.

Author: Özge Yücel


Lloyd-Smith, Allan. American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction. Continuum, 2005.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Southern Gothic.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 May 2013,

Bjerre, Thomas Ærvold. “Southern Gothic Literature.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, 20 June 2017,


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