What is American Gothic

Doing fundamentals for the ePub Issue 4


What is American Gothic Fiction?

According to Wikipedia:

American gothic fiction
is a subgenre of gothic fiction. Elements specific to American Gothic include: rationality/rational vs irrational, puritanism, guilt, Das Unheimliche (strangeness within the familiar as defined by Sigmund Freud), ab-humans, ghosts, monsters, and domestic abjection. The roots of these concepts lay in a past riddled with slavery, a fear of racial mixing (miscegenation), hostile Native American relations, their subsequent genocide, and the daunting wilderness present at the American frontier. American Gothic is often devoid of castles and objects which allude to a civilized history. Differentiating between horror and terror is important in the study of these texts.

American gothic fiction is the playground of familiar authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Salient Themes

Anti-transcendentalism, Madness, and the failure of reason: the protagonist of the American gothic story descends into madness because of their actions, or the inability to rationalize the consequences of their actions, the literal unknowable, and nameless horror.

What is Transcendentalism? According to Wiki: an idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism. Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, it taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, and its members held progressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were central figures.

Thus, in the American gothic story, irrationality triumphs over reason, and that the divine is either malevolent or unknowable. Progressive views are irrelevant.


Having been founded largely in the New England states, American Gothic is a revolt against Puritanism, which was dominant over the region. This was the hellfire and brimstone era of Puritanism where sermons were delivered with pomp and flare, with God's infinite wrath being held back by only a thread of forgiveness. Hell was lurid and full of sinners being the victims of torture porn.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Das Unheimliche

We are already intimately familiar with das unheimliche, it is the uncanny valley, where something very familiar and very normal suddenly becomes uncanny, unsettling, and strange. This is also cognitive dissonance.

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