The DAY OF THE DEAD
The Day of the Dead is a short story by Victoria Brownworth, which explores the emotional condition and plight of a woman left homeless and fearing for her death on the streets of New Orleans. Although the purpose of the story is not to primary to kindle a sense terror or horror in the responder, but rather to draw attention to a variety of contemporary social issues, Brownworth makes use of several Gothic conventions, namely setting, otherness, isolation, high emotion and references to the supernatural. These conventions work together to make The Day of the Dead an effective Gothic text.
The most apparent Gothic element in the text is its setting, which is introduced at the beginning of the story and is becomes more detailed, and more Gothic, as the plot progresses. The story is set in autumn, a season which represents decay, and takes place around the time of Halloween, which is referred to as the “Day of the Dead” and imbues the text with a frightening, mysterious undertone. The New Orleans city centre, in which Maeve is sleeping rough, is also described as being colder than usual, experiencing a “chill dawn”, a “heavy mist” and a “fog so thick… that it seemed to slink by like a long-furred beast”. The references to the mist and fog link to the idea of obscurity, another element of the Gothic genre, while the metaphor of the long-furred beast makes the tone more ominous, implying a link to the supernatural. The smells of the city, which are “bitter… smells of chicory and beignets” are also vividly described as being “thick enough to bite” and “choke” Maeve, once again conveying the precarious nature of her setting, a setting which she is forced must endure considering that she is homeless.
The Gothic flavour of the setting is also maintained when Maeve is taken into the home of Rita, who rehabilitates her from a HIV-induced fever. Rita’s dwelling is described as being a “tiny shingled bungalow on a narrow barren street”, alluding to a sense of isolation. The inside of the house is introduced as being “dark”, creating a sense of suspense and ambiguity, as the responder is unaware of whether Rita is genuinely committed to helping Maeve. Rita’s home also contains a number of traditionally-Gothic symbols, such as “beaded curtains” and candles, which enhance the dark atmosphere of the setting.
Another key convention utilised by Brownworth in The Day of the Dead is otherness, seen through the character of Maeve. As a female homeless person with HIV, Maeve is perceived as an outcast of society, as she falls outside the norms of modern patriarchal industrial society, a society that has a lack of regard for social causes, hence leading to the alienation of minorities or marginalised groups. Maeve’s alienation is augmented due to the fact that she is lesbian, living in a heteronormative world. Considering Brownworth’s personal context as an LGBT rights activist, it is interesting to consider that, as “the other”, Maeve finds consolation solely in the LGBT community, as she is helped by Rita, another lesbian, and is emotionally strengthened by the memory of her partner, Chloe. Conversely, she acquires HIV from sexual intercourse with a heterosexual male, which acts as the cause of her physical corruption, and through which she embodies the corruption of the society which she lives in. This idea of otherness, appropriated into a modern context influenced by the post-Stonewall LGBT rights movement, draws significantly from the Romantic ideals of the corruption and alienation of modern society, which leads to “othering” and isolation. It can also be seen as an LGBT interpretation of the Gothic convention of women dominated by a tyrannical male (in this case, males are seen as physically corrupting women).
The isolation faced by Maeve is also conveyed through her entrapment in New Orleans, a city she is unfamiliar with and which she cannot leave due to her financial circumstances. This entrapment is initially physical, as she describes her livelihood on the “small, narrow cramped streets of the French Quarter”. More profoundly, Maeve’s feelings of loneliness and isolation can be seen through her nostalgic thoughts of London, which she simply describes as “home”, as well as the fact that she “wished she were there with Chloe, instead of here alone”. Her separation from Chloe, who she fondly thinks of in times of hardship, also allude to the Romantic convention, popular in traditional Gothic literature, of parted lovers and their inability to meet each other due to the tyrannical forces of external agents.
The Day of the Dead can be classified as a Gothic text due to its use of high emotion and multiple references to pain and suffering. Before meeting Rita, who draws Maeve away from her sense of isolation, the protagonist is in a constant state of emotional depression, as she ponders over her death and her disease. As she walks to the health clinic, for example, she finds it hard to breathe and is “shivering and hot, aching all over”. Later, when her fever becomes worse and she “crashes to the floor”, she is described as having “blue bloodshot eyes”, a “face paler than any Irish girl’s should be”, “deep grey-green circles” which ring her eyes and white lips. These vivid descriptions add to the emotion of the text, making the responder uneasy and showing the suffering that Maeve goes through as a result of her homelessness and disease.
The multiple references to the supernatural are also of key significance in making The Day of the Dead an effective Gothic text. The supernatural flavour of the story is apparent from its setting on and around Halloween, a day associated with the spirits of the dead. Additionally, at Rita’s house, Maeve has a number of supernatural visions in her dreams, as she sees Chloe transforming into a “terrifying” skeleton, a “death mask”. This vision is later repeated as Maeve imagines other acquaintances coming to her bedside, all of them wearing a death mask and “growing green in the tiny room”, creating a mood of disquiet and horror in the responder. It is there visions which imbue the text with a quintessentially Gothic feel, particularly as they introduce in the responder a sense of terror and fear for Maeve’s future.
By looking at the literary conventions used in The Day of the Dead, it can be seen that the story has a distinctly Gothic character, and is made an effective text in this genre due to its use of elements such as setting, otherness, isolation, high emotion and references to the supernatural. These conventions are appropriated in such a way as to further the key concerns of the text and to create an effective Gothic text that remains relevant in a contemporary context.
The Last Train
The Last Train is a contemporary Gothic short story by the African American writer Linda K. Wright. The text describes the experiences that a young working woman faces on a subway train at night, including an encounter with a homeless man and the realisation that the other passengers on the train have been murdered by the narrator’s vampire friend, Mrs Erdman. Although the story subverts the Gothic genre in a number of ways due to its postmodern context, there are a number of key conventions that the text shares with classical Gothic fiction, such as references to the supernatural, obscurity, a Gothic setting, otherness, duality, isolation and entrapment, and the idea of women in distress.
Considering that The Last Train is above all a vampire story, references to the supernatural play a significant part in the text, particularly in the creation of a Gothic mood of terror. The supernatural is first introduced in the story during the narrator’s dream, when she has a vision of the homeless man approaching her and intending to murder her, but wakes up and realises that the man is sitting in front of her. The portrayal of Mrs Erdman as a vampire is also supernatural, even though the character does not have many of the stereotypical traits of this mythological creature, and behaves very discreetly and believably.
The idea of the supernatural is linked to the obscurity which pervades the novel, particularly surrounding Mrs Erdman’s actions. The homeless man’s warning to the narrator at the beginning of the story, when he tells her not to board the train, is ambiguous, and the motives of the man are unclear as he tells her that “this train is bad… people go to sleep on this train”. This obscurity creates a sense of suspense and insecurity in the responder, as they are certain that ominous events are destined to take place on the train, but are unsure of what these events will entail. When Mrs Erdman is first introduced, the motives for her presence on the train platform at such a late hour are also unclear and vague, with the narrator asking herself, “What was Mrs Erdman doing out at this time of night?” Additionally, the way in which Mrs Erdman kills the other passengers of the train is obscure, as the narrator sleeps through this occurrence, and initially believes that the homeless man is the culprit. Finally, the fate of the protagonist is not explained in the conclusion, and it is unclear whether she will be bitten by Mrs Erdman or whether she will escape.
The story’s setting is also distinctly Gothic, and contributes to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to terror and fear. It is revealed that the action takes place late at night, considering that the narrator worries that she will miss “the last commuter train out of the city” and that “all the businesses are closed”. Additionally, the narrator describes the city landscape as containing “dark streets” and “furtive shadows”, further adding to the ominous mood of the text, a mood that is conducive to the obscure occurrences that take place later in the story. The uncomfortable, insecure nature of the story’s setting is also conveyed by the reference to a “biting March wind” which overcomes the city, a metonymy used in the Gothic genre to represent gloom and horror.
The Last Train’s setting is also rather desolate and isolated, particularly in moments of heightened emotion and insecurity. As the narrator walks through the city and arrives on the platform, she does not come into contact with anyone apart from the homeless man, who is potentially dangerous to her and who she must confront on her own. Even though she later notices other people on the platform, the narrator continues to feel isolated emotionally, as she remarks that she “knew better than to expect [people looking out for each other] in today’s world”. This sense of isolation and alienation is repeated at the climax of the novel, when the other passengers of the train have been murdered and the protagonist is alone with Mrs Erdman and the homeless man. In this case, isolation is heightened by the setting of the scene on a moving train, which the protagonist knows she cannot escape. In this way, the text’s Gothic atmosphere is augmented by the protagonist’s isolation, entrapment and resulting helplessness in dealing with a situation of terror and fear.
Another Gothic convention represented in the text is otherness, which is best seen through the character of the homeless man. The man embodies the negative facets and deformities of society, or “the other”, as can be seen through his ragged appearance and his status as a social outcast. Through this, the text explores the issues of homelessness, and through the medium of a socially-deformed other, seeks to highlight the corruption of society and amplify the sense of fear that is apparent through the text. The street person can also be linked to the Romantic ideal of the noble savage, made an outcast and unable to integrate into society due to his difference. Although the man is feared by the narrator and looked down upon, he displays a number of noble characteristics, evidenced through his desire to help the protagonist through his prophetic warning and his patience in dealing with the protagonist’s threats. It is also interesting to note that, due to his otherness, the homeless man is the only character spared by the vampire, due to the “thinness of his blood”. This alludes to the Gothic genre’s regard and empathy for society’s outcasts, a moral grounded in early Gothic texts such as Frankenstein.
Duality is another element of the Gothic genre which is apparent in The Last Train, and is most prominent in the character of Mrs Erdman. Erdman is portrayed throughout the text in a dual and often-contradictory fashion: her positive side is represented by her role as a respectable, polite lady, while her negative side is seen through her as a vampire. Mrs Erdman’s kindness, for example, is revealed by the protagonist’s initial reaction towards the lady, who she sees as a “comforting figure” and “welcome voice”. Additionally, it is revealed that Erdman has an affection for stray cats, keeping them in her house, and is a campaigner of women’s rights and animal rights. This same character, harbours, however, a more sinister side, as can be seen through Mrs Erdman’s ruthless consumption of the passenger’s blood, which she explains to the protagonist in a cold and detached tone, as well as the force with which she “bends [the protagonist’s] wrist backward” to drink her blood.
A more complex way in which The Last Train is an effective horror text is through its portrayal of the role of women, in which it both draws from and subverts the Gothic genre. The convention of women in distress, dominated by a tyrannical male is appropriated into the female protagonist’s encounter with the homeless man, who she fears and becomes increasingly insecure in the presence of. In this way, the threatening character is male, while the threatened, distressed character is female. This element is also subverted, however, due to the feminist context of the story, in which the protagonist succeeds in making the homeless man depart from her presence, and the where the actual antagonist is in fact female. Thus, although the text initially seems to conform to the Gothic model of gender roles, it is apparent that females play the most important and powerful role in the plot, and that the homeless man is, in many ways, the text’s weakest character.
By looking at the Gothic elements of The Last Train, it can be seen that the text draws heavily on conventions such as references to the supernatural, obscurity, an ominous setting, otherness, duality, isolation and entrapment, and the idea of women in distress. These conventions work together to create a story that is rather effective as a Gothic text, particularly in its creation of an atmosphere that induces the responder into a mood of terror and fear.
The Black Cat
The Black Cat, written in 1843, is one of the best-known short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and explores the moral and psychological downfall of a man as he murders his cat Pluto and his wife, attempts to conceal the murder and then breaks down morally due to the pressure of guilt. Due to its core themes of violence, hatred and guilt, the text is one of Poe’s most well-known and powerful short stories. The effect of The Black Cat’s key concerns is augmented by the several Gothic conventions which Poe uses in the story, including the duality of humankind, intense emotion, setting, obscurity, references to the supernatural and the role of females.
Duality is one of the key conventions of the Gothic genre, and is used by Poe in order to convey the complexity of the human condition and the corruption resident in all humans, even if they may apparently be good. A duality between good and evil is most apparent in the protagonist, which is initially presented as having a mild and caring personality: he describes himself as being known for the “docility and humanity of my disposition”, his “tenderness of heart”, and his “fondness for animals”. Under the influence of alcohol, however, a darker and contrasting facet of his personality is revealed, which he describes as “the spirit of perverseness”, and which leads him to gouge out the eye of and brutally murder his first cat, and later slay his wife. That both of these traits are found in one person is a central concern of the story, and reveals the text’s grounding in Gothic conventions.
Another element of the Gothic genre which is significant in The Black Cat is the use of overwrought emotion in order to transmit the vexation and horror of the protagonist. This is best conveyed through the punctuation of the story, which makes use of a multitude of hyphens, exclamation marks and capital letters, all of which make the flow of the story faster and more irrational, suggesting a sense of heightened emotion and fear. For example, when the narrator notices that the second cat’s white fur patch is growing, he exclaims that, “it was now, I say, the image of a hideous – of a ghastly thing – of the GALLOWS! – oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime – of Agony and of Death!” This vividly reveals that angst and desperation that the protagonist faces, and thus augments the idea of his mental breakdown as well as the atmosphere of terror conveyed by the text.
The setting of the story also contains a number of traditional Gothic elements which further the text’s main themes. The key events in the story, such as the killing of Pluto, the burning of the house and the discovery of the second cat, all take place at night, which acts as a recurring motif that amplifies the ominous mood of the story. Additionally, the text’s climax takes place in a cellar, marked by a “dampness of atmosphere”, which is a typical Gothic setting representing gloom, entrapment and isolation. It is in this cellar that the protagonist hides the body of his dead wife, and also where he is found guilty of his crime after his wife begins wailing in the presence of the police, with the setting adding significantly to the creation of atmosphere in this part of the story.
Although some elements of the setting and plot can be clearly identified, the story is marked by a deep sense of obscurity, which adds its Gothic flavour. This obscurity is highlighted by the unreliability and subjectivity of the narrator, whose recount of the story is highly emotional and fails to explain the story’s context effectively. Due to this, a clear sense of setting is never established, and a number of events are not adequately explained. For example, the way in which the house burns down is unclear, as is the way in which the police were informed about the crime, and the final fate of the protagonist. The effect of this inherent obscurity and ambiguity is to not only reflect the vexation of the central character, but to also strengthen the disturbing peculiarity and eeriness of the story.
This peculiarity is also augmented by the multiple references to the supernatural that are contained in the text, which lead the responder to believe that the events in the story are “more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects”. One of the most important supernatural motifs in the text is the black cat, which is a mythological symbol of bad luck. Both of the cats in the story bring bad luck, and possess a number of supernatural, inexplicable powers that seek to haunt both the protagonist and the responder. The white patch of the second cat, for example, begins growing without any explanation, until it transforms itself into an outline of the gallows, thus predicting the protagonist’s fate as he is sentenced to death at the end of the story. Additionally, the first cat, Pluto, re-appears as a “gigantic phantasm” on the wall after it is killed by the protagonist, suggesting its supernatural powers. The fact that house burns down on the exact night of Pluto’s death is also mysterious, and is further related to the traditional supernatural idea of black cats bearing bad luck. The multiple references to God augment the sense of the supernatural in the story, which in turn seeks to heighten the obscurity, mystery and terror that pervades the text.
A final Gothic convention that is evident in The Black Cat is the role of females, and their domination by male figures. In the text, the only female character is the protagonist’s wife, and she is often dominated over by the increasingly-brutal male protagonist, who admits that, due to his lust for “perverseness”, he used “intemperate language” and even “personal violence” against his wife. In many ways, particularly when read from a feminist perspective, the text can hence be seen as a psychological study of domestic violence and its causes. This culminates in the protagonist’s murder of his wife, due to her interference in his attempt to kill the second cat. In fact, the wife is portrayed throughout the text as a positive, calming influence, being described as “patient” and “uncomplaining”, and compassionately attempting to prevent the death of the cat, even if through this she sacrifices her own life. This alludes to the Romantic and Gothic ideal of the importance of female influence in balancing the male-dominated corruption of a patriarchal society.
As one of Poe’s most successful short stories, The Black Cat utilises a wide range of Gothic conventions, such as duality of humankind, intense emotion, setting, obscurity, references to the supernatural and the role of females, all of which augment the key concerns of the text. It is through these key concerns, such as the breakdown of the human condition and the psychology of guilt, as well as through the successful creation of terror, that The Black Cat can be seen as an effective Gothic text.
The Shining is a 1980 horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the book of the same title by Stephen King. The film follows the mental breakdown faced by Jack Torrance, and the effect of this on his wife Wendy and son Danny, as he assumes a caretaker’s job at an isolated and haunted mountain hotel. In order to convey this breakdown of the human condition more vividly and effectively, Kubrick and King make use of a variety of Gothic conventions, including setting and atmosphere, isolation, references to the supernatural, overwrought emotion, the portrayal of females in distress and duality.
The film’s setting, and the overall atmosphere created by this, provides the text with a distinctively Gothic flavour, thus contributing to its effective construction of feelings of terror and horror. The hotel that the Torrances inhabit is built in a Gothic architectural style, and contains high ceilings, wrought-iron chandeliers, stained-glass windows and an open fireplace, all of which establish a dark and foreboding atmosphere and hence heighten the atmosphere of the film. This immediate setting is augmented by the placement of the hotel in a natural setting which is equally foreboding and cold, as evidenced by the frequent snowstorms that take place, as well as the howling wind and the mist that covers the Torrances’ car when they first arrive at the hotel. This setting – of the Gothic-revival hotel in wintry, wild surroundings – is a recurring motif in the film, utilised at the introduction of every chapter in order to accentuate the ominous atmosphere that leads the Torrances, particularly Jack, to their mental breakdown.
The setting of The Shining is also a central means of highlighting the isolation of the central characters, which is another convention of the Gothic genre. This is achieved through the establishment of the sublime in the introductory scene, where Jack Torrance drives towards the hotel for his job interview. During this scene, the setting alludes to power and magnificence, as Jack’s car is followed by the camera in a high-angle shot that makes him appear insignificant among the tall snow-capped mountains, forests and a large, clear lake which define his natural surroundings. The feelings of vastness and grandeur conveyed by this setting are amplified by the loud, sharp music played in the background, which his also creates a feeling of suspense. A similar composition takes place when the Torrances are driving towards the hotel as a family, a scene where the hotel is filmed from a large distance, enabling the viewer to gain a more accurate perspective of the natural environment that the Torrances are placed in. In this way, the Romantic ideal of the insignificance of humanity in the face of nature is heightened, with the film also conveying the isolation of the Torrances in the vastness of their natural surroundings.
Isolation is also conveyed by the lack of communications that the Torrances have with other people while they are at the hotel. As Jack’s employer notes at the beginning of the film, the access road to the hotel is blocked in winter, and Wendy later discovers that the phone lines have been damaged in a snowstorm, severing the family’s contact with the outside world. The sense of isolation that the Torrances face is directly linked with the onset of Jack’s mental breakdown, this being something which his employer warns against at the beginning of the movie, when he tells Jack that “solitude and isolation can in themselves become problems”. Later in the film, the isolation of Wendy and Danny becomes heightened as Jack breaks the radio and boycotts the snowcat, preventing them from leaving the hotel and returning to the outside world.
Another key convention that Kubrick and King makes use of in The Shining is the inclusion of references to the supernatural. Throughout the film, a series of obscure and inexplicable events take place that suggest supernatural intervention, and hence augment the sense of horror that permeates the text. Perhaps the best example of this is Danny’s “shining” powers, which enable him, at the beginning of the film, to communicate telepathically with Dick, the hotel cook, and also result in him having several disturbing visions of the past and the future. Supernatural events in the film are depicted in such a way as to heighten the film’s emotion, with the frame rate of the film being slowed down and the camera zooming in on the face of the fearful characters, while ominous, deep music plays in the background. The supernatural elements in the film are also eerie and disturbing to the responder due to the fact that they represent the corruption of humanity, another key concern of Gothic texts. The twin girls that Danny repeatedly sees, for example, seem to be joined together at the hands, and have a slightly-deformed face, embodying the negative facets of humanity in a supernatural other.
Aside from their supernatural powers, the film’s characters are also marked by a sense of overwrought emotion, which is used to transmit the atmosphere of horror more vividly to the responder. This can best be seen in the chase seen near the conclusion of the movie, where Wendy struggles to escape from the hotel and is followed by Jack, who aims to kills her. During this scene, the camera zooms closely on Wendy’s face, highlighting her fear and intense emotion as she is placed in a life-threatening situation. The music also becomes increasingly sharp, fast and high-pitched, further transmitting a sense of high emotion and adding to the Gothic atmosphere of the text.
The gender roles of male and female are also constructed in a distinctly Gothic way throughout the film, alluding to the Gothic convention of passive women being dominated by a tyrannical male. In The Shining, Wendy plays the role of the passive female, submitting to Jack, who becomes, particularly towards the end of the film, increasingly violent and tyrannical. The interaction between Jack and Wendy can best be seen in the scene where Jack is suffering from writer’s block, and where he curses at Wendy for disturbing him and orders her to leave the room, showing her domination over her. Wendy, who was initially in a pleasant mood, complies readily. Towards the end of the film, when Jack intends to kill his family, Wendy’s role as the female in distress is strengthened, as she struggles to escape from the power of an increasingly-ruthless and irrational male, her husband.
The character of Jack also reveals a core duality within him, as he oscillates between a kind and understanding husband and father, and a deranged and arguably-evil murderer. The portrayal of dualities is an important element of the Gothic genre, as it highlights the complex nature of humanity and the corruption that resides within everyone. Although Jack’s condition is profoundly influenced by isolation and his passing of time at the hotel, he can also be seen as an intrinsically double-sided character. At the beginning of the film, for example, it is revealed that he cares for his family, as evidenced by his considerate phone call to Wendy to inform her that he “got the job”. However, when Danny has his first vision, Wendy reveals to the doctor that Jack became violent when he drank alcohol, and broke Danny’s arm when he arrived home one night in a drunken stupor. Later in the film, when Jack becomes increasingly insensitive and malicious towards Wendy, he also maintains an opposing element of care and kindness, as can be seen through the hug that he gives to Danny and his assurances that he “will never hurt [him]”.
An analysis of The Shining reveals that the film uses a variety of Gothic conventions, such as setting and atmosphere, isolation, references to the supernatural, overwrought emotion, the portrayal of females in distress and duality, which are constructed through a variety of techniques and filmic devices, such as camera angles, the use of symbols and music. It is these Gothic conventions, and the way in which they are used by King and Kubrick to augment the central concerns of the movie, that have enabled the Shining to become one of the most effective and successful horror films of the 20th century.
Spirits of the Dead
Written in 1827, Spirits of the Dead is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s earlier works, exploring the notion of death, and particularly the fear that the living have for the act of death. The poem has a distinctly Gothic character through its subtle yet effective use of a number of Gothic conventions, such as manifestations of the supernatural, isolation, setting, an atmosphere of terror and gloom, and obscurity.
key Gothic convention that defines Spirits of the Dead is a set
of references to the supernatural. The most apparent of these is the
motif of the death and its “spirits”, to which the poem makes constant
reference, and which infuses the text with a morbid, depressed mood.
Additionally, manifestations of death are commonly associated with fear,
and hence aid in the creation of an atmosphere of terror, particularly
as death is described as a “burning
and a fever /
Isolation is also evident in the poem, this being another Gothic convention used to inspire terror and fear in the responder. The text begins, for example, with the line “Thy soul shall find itself alone”, referring to the seclusion of death, while the second stanza also makes reference to privation, telling the responder to “be silent in that solitude”. The feeling of isolation that permeates the poem is also conveyed by the fact that there are no other characters which the composer addresses or mentions, and very little action takes place in the text. Moreover, even the stars, symbols of light and hope, do not “look down” on the dead, heightening the sense of isolation. Poe, however, suggests that this isolation (and, perhaps, by extension, death) is not necessarily a negative state, as he remarks that solitude “is not loneliness” due to the “spirits of the death”, which are the only ones to “overshadow” the protagonist.
The sense of isolation inherent in Spirits of the Dead is also conveyed by the Gothic setting of the text, which is foreboding, dark and still. The action takes place in a graveyard of “grey tomb-stone”, a symbol of morbidity which is accentuated by the fact that the poem is set on a clear night, personified as “frowning”, where the “the breeze, the breath of God, is still”, and where only a “mist upon the hill” exists, which in itself is “shadowy, shadowy” and represents mystery, obscurity and unease. Additionally, the setting is filled with a number of symbols which add meaning to the story and augment its Gothic mood. For example, the only source of light in the graveyard, in the absence of the stars, are “red orbs, without beam”, which act as an ominous symbol of morbidity. The atmosphere of gloom that the setting creates is also enhanced by the slow, rhythmic tone of the poem, which almost induces the responder into a slumber and thus makes the concept of death more vivid.
The poem is also covered by obscurity and mystery, which enhances the effectiveness of its Gothic tone. Very little contextual information is provided on either the narrator or the setting, creating a sense of ambiguity as to the direction and intention of the poem. In particular, it is unclear to whom the poem is addressed to, and what state they are in. Obscurity is also conveyed through the symbol of the mist, which is “shadowy”, the references to the supernatural, which are obscure because of their ability to be fully comprehended, and the concluding description of death as “a mystery of mysteries”.
By looking at the literary conventions used in Spirits of the Dead, it can be seen that the text is an effective example of the Gothic genre due to its use of manifestations of the supernatural, isolation, setting, an atmosphere of terror and gloom, and obscurity, which strengthen the central themes of the text, such as the mystery and loneliness of death. In turn, these conventions are expressed through a range of techniques used by Poe, such as symbolism, vivid imagery and personification.
Darkness (1816) is a poem by Lord George Gordon Byron about a dream in which society metamorphose into a series of brutal, ruthless animals due to their disillusionment in a world of anomie. Through this, Byron alludes the importance of growing up in a world of reason, direction, compassion and good citizenship. In order to transmit these key values more profoundly to the responder, Byron makes use of a number of Gothic conventions, particularly duality, setting and atmosphere and a mood of overwrought emotion.
The poem’s setting is of key importance in establishing it as a Gothic text and supporting the concerns espoused in the poem. The dark, decaying and apocalyptic setting, which is described using evocative language, is one that pervades the entire poem, conjuring images of a normless dystopia. At the beginning of the text, “the bright sun was extinguish’d”, while the atmosphere of the “icy earth” is described as being devoid of stars and containing “moonless air”. In fact, the motif of darkness is the most important component of the poem, with the absence of light, and hence of hope and warmth, continually being emphasised through phrases such as “all was black”.
The idea of an “eternal space” that is “rayless and pathless” also leads to the creation of the sublime, inspiring a sense of transcendental terror in the responder as he is unable to fully imagine the vastness and obscurity of the setting. Additionally, there is a sense of stillness in the natural setting, conveying at atmosphere of morbidity and decay. This is evidenced by the “stagnant air”, the “silent depths” of the sea where the ships lie “rotting”, the “dead” waves and the tides which are “in their grave”. The world described in the poem is also marked by an total erosion of social order and values, with people acting uncontrollably in their own interests, and other unnatural occurrences taking place, such as “dogs [consuming] their masters” and cannibalism (“the meagre by the meagre were devoured”).
In this context of normlessness, duality is another core Gothic element of the text, considering the poem’s concerns about the factors which can lead to the corruption of the human mind. Throughout the poem, the dark, shadowy facet of human nature is portrayed, a facet which is defined by a uncontrollable desire to destroy. For example, due to their “desolation”, the men in the poem, which are described as having a “mutual hideousness”, burn down the “palaces of crowned kings” and consume cities and other living creatures, while the “forests were set on fire”. It is implied, however, that this is a departure from the normal state of humankind, and the society, before “the bright sun was extinguish’d”, also had a compassionate, stable aspect, as evidenced by the “palaces of crowned kings”, a symbol of social order, and the reference to the former “populous and powerful” which have perished. Through the incorporation of this duality, Byron warns of the dark dimension which can become dominant in a situation where there are no norms and no social order. It is important to note, however, that the origins of the world described in the poem are obscure, and the overall setting is marked by ambiguity and mystery, making use of another Gothic convention.
The Gothic atmosphere of Darkness is augmented by the overwrought, heightened emotion that is apparent throughout the novel and is expressed through vivid imagery. For example, the dog which licks the master’s hand is described as giving a “piteous and perpetual moan” and a “quick desolate cry”, while the men are described as having “hid their eyes and wept” and “looked up with a mad disquietude to the dull sky”, while one of the men “[gorges] himself in a gloom”. The sense of suffering and pain faced by the men (for, interestingly, women are absent from the poem) is also mirrored in the heightened emotions of the animals in the poem. The “wild birds”, for example, are described as being terrified and as having “shriek’d”, while the vipers, symbols of corruption, are “hissing”. This suggests a heightened degree of tension and emotion and reinforces the hostility of the apocalyptic setting constructed in the poem.
As an evident example of the traditional Gothic genre, Darkness makes effective use of a number of conventions, such as duality, setting and atmosphere and a mood of overwrought emotion. These conventions are made more vivid due to the mood and imagery conveyed by Byron, which effectively furthers the text’s central concern of the dystopian consequences which can arise in a human society marked by normlessness.
Interview with the Vampire
Interview with the Vampire is a 1994 film directed by Neil Jordan and based on the book of the same name by horror writer Anne Rice. The film chronicles the life of a two-hundred-year-old vampire, Louis, and his relationships with other humans vampires, such as his “mentor” Lestat, and offers a profound insight into a variety of themes, including immortality, sexuality and power. In order to convey these themes more powerfully to the responder, the text uses a multitude of Gothic conventions, including setting, obscurity, overwrought emotion, manifestations of the supernatural, duality, and women in distress.
The setting of Interview with the Vampire is one of the powerful ways in which the Gothic character of the film is revealed. The majority of the film’s scenes take place at night, a traditional setting for Gothic texts, which creates a sense of morbidity and obscurity, and also assists in the creation of terror and fear. The action of Lestat drinking Louis’ blood, for example, is barely visible, heightening the emotion and mystery produced by the scene. Even when light is shown, the source of light is generally isolated in the frame, and is muted and faded. Additionally, some components of the setting allude to the idea of the sublime, a quality of transcendental, difficult-to-comprehend greatness that hence also inspires terror in the responder. In the introductory scene, for example, the cityscape of San Francisco, the setting of the film’s contemporary subplot is presented. During this scene, a wide panorama of the city is filmed at night, including the large, clear sea, evoking the sublime, which is augmented by the chant-like musical background evoking grandeur and terror, and a slow movement of the camera.
The setting also contains a number of symbolic elements that enhance the creation of a Gothic atmosphere throughout the film. Fire, for example, is a recurring motif which is used to visually mark moments of heightened tension, and is used particularly effectively due to its juxtaposition with scenes of darkness, forming a contrast that enhances the effect of the emotionally-heightened scenes. When Louis kills his first victim for her blood, rain is used as a metonymy of terror, with the city also obscured due to a heavy mist. The setting of Louis’ early life story is also made more Gothic due to its placement in an 18th century context, which enables the inclusion of candles, chariots and grandiose buildings and hence aids in the construction of a traditional Gothic atmosphere.
A Gothic atmosphere is also supported in the film through the portrayal of overwrought emotion at various key moments. In this case, the director makes significant use of the technique of contrast, as he juxtaposes scenes with little tension to ones of high emotion. For example, the majority of the film’s scenes take place at night, with the characters whispering to each other. When an element of heightened terror and fear is introduced, however, the film cuts sharply to a scene with a greater degree of tension. For example, overwrought emotion is shown during Louis’ initial struggle with Lestat, which is marked by fast movements and an amplification of sound backed by dramatic music, all of which are in sharp contrast to the previously calm scene of Louis walking through the forest. Heightened emotion is also conveyed during the murder of Louis’ first victim, with the camera zooming in closely on the victim’s face in order to show her state of extreme fear and desperation, and then moving down to show the blood soaking in her dress, augmenting the film’s sense of terror.
The film’s central reliance on manifestations of the supernatural is another way in which it can be seen as an effective Gothic text. This is most apparently seen through the text’s central focus on the characteristics of vampires, a supernatural creature that is commonly associated with terror and repulsion, but which the film provides a more complex view of. Additionally, there are a number of inexplicable events that take place in the story which suggest supernatural intervention. For example, when Louis attempts to drink the blood of his first potential victim, an old woman, her poodles begin barking from the distance, diverting her attention and enabling her to escape death. The fact that it begins to rain immediately after the death of Louis’ first victim is also odd, and can in many ways be seen as a clichéd Gothic convention related to the supernatural.
The idea of vampires being entirely evil and horrific creatures is subverted in the text due to incorporation of dualities in the character of Louis. When initially introduced, Louis is eloquent, talks in a slow, calm whisper and is well-dressed and well-mannered. When he retells his past, however, it is found out that this same character is also capable of a number of reprehensible and brutal acts, such as murder and violent bouts of rage which result in substantial damage when he is deprived of blood. Despite this, he is capable of remorse, as can be seen through the fact that, after harming his first victim, he frees all of the slaves on his plantation and burns down his mansion in disgust, believing it to be cursed. The fact that Louis chose to become a vampire in order to save his life also adds another layer of complexity to his character.
The portrayal of women in relation to men is another way in which Interview with the Vampire is an effective Gothic text. In traditional Gothic literature, women are often portrayed as being submissive and in distress due to tyrannical male figures, a convention which is also evident in the film. Both Lestat and Louis are males, and the significant majority of their victims are females, hence showing the suffering of women at the hands of dominant men. Visually, this relationship is also shown through the use of levels. For example, after the first victim is bitten by Lestat, she is shown as sitting down, while the vampire stands up, towering over her with his presence.
It can be seen that Interview with the Vampire is an effective Gothic text due to its use of a wide variety of Gothic conventions, incorporated by Rice into her text, such as setting, obscurity, overwrought emotion, manifestations of the supernatural, duality, and women in distress. These conventions have been augmented by the director through the use of several filmic techniques, such as camera angles, music and light intensity, which contribute significantly to the creation of terror and fear that is of such importance to the Gothic genre.
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Colectivul de redactie: Lucian Hetco (Germania) , George Roca (Australia), Melania Cuc (Romania, Canada)