gothic literature essay topics

gothic literature essay topics

Exploring the Themes and Motifs in Gothic Literature

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1. Introduction to Gothic Literature

In 1764, Horace Walpole, with a Biblical quote and a creative mind, managed to start one of the most influential literary genres of the modern era with The Castle of Otranto. The Gothic genre deals with beings and themes on the fringes of society, be they demonic or otherwise. By allowing the reader to see these characters and issues in a safe, distanced way, the reader would be able to draw their own conclusions about such beings and themes. The supernatural, an outcast cast, domestic space, and the doppelganger are just a few of its core thematic motifs, and several of its chief emotional elements are used for effect in the genre. This genre explores loss, lust, struggle, social standing, fear, and others in overwrought and dramatic ways. These standard thematic and emotional motifs can be seen well with an exploration of two of the classic Gothic novels: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Gothic novels focus primarily on a series of dramatic and deeply emotional elements like the supernatural, a focal point on unique and flawed protagonists who face forces beyond their control, and abuse (whether it is overt or subtle). These elements allow the genre to speak for issues that are too raw for polite conversation and introspective minds. To showcase this discussion, two classic Gothic novels that capture its core elements will be discussed: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The former will focus on the visual image motif, and the latter will focus on domestic space, especially shared bedrooms. While exploring the discussed novels, these motifs can be seen more closely, and the underpinnings of the Gothic genre will begin to be revealed through their usage in the plot.

2. Key Themes in Gothic Literature

Terror and the Sublime Different from horror, terror appeals to the sense of suspense. This pervasive emotion has been called a “very nearly sacred emotion,” and it is the shadowy corner where horror is born. Freud believed that terror was “displeasure at the untimely [appearance of] reality.” Edmund Burke wrote that terror is accompanied by a “considerable degree of respect. It is raised with the sublime, since a great part of the effect has to do with the retention of a modicum of submission to the possibility of the object… This terror also causes the suspended state of our reason since it is “in many cases… incompatible with terror.

The gothic themes that are found in earlier texts revolve around the medieval setting itself and may include themes of chivalry, as well as the “tumbling down” castle motif. Later texts, from the 18th century on, began to incorporate a number of other ideas. Some of the most popular of these were terror, horror, and the supernatural. It is in part these three themes that set gothic literature apart from romance. Besides this, there are a myriad of other themes found in gothic literature. Included within the scope of the supernatural is the number of gothic characters that are of questionable life. These include the vampire and Frankenstein’s monster. Some of the stranger characters not included in that general character are the Phantom of the Opera and the mummy.

3. Common Motifs in Gothic Literature

As for the plot, a hair of a flying spirit or shiny evil awakens ghostly figures of the past most often. Ghostly evil can glide in the form of an innocent and young girl or an old woman. Several loss-return stories remind us of Homer’s Odyssey. This motif is the domain of the oppressed theme; the nightmare ghost prevents peace. This motif shows us the dualism of the forgotten past and reality. The lost soul ruins the living people’s lives by forcing the living people to solve the mystery of its death. Dear people create the greatest power of memory, perpetuated in the afterlife. Love of the son returns the mother’s soul to peace. Sometimes the protection of homeland or death close to an unhappy event has a power to keep wandering souls at a distance. In the most common theme of reincarnation, the living people lead the eternal lovers to each other. These narratives clearly communicate our distant past, or cultural, and religious differences.

Gothic literature is a point of discovery of the invisible world, the world of dark and gloomy visions. Here we, readers, witness various reflective signs that wound the mind. The gothic strand woven in the works of English, German, Italian, and French literature reveals the collective unconscious of many generations of readers. However, primarily the special motifs create a peculiar atmosphere of gothic stories far beyond different national or cultural traits. Themes are valuable for understanding various cultures and depend on the geographical location and moral basis of human civilizations. The more universal motifs are supernatural, taking the role of the double, theme of madness or its reflection, theme of the return of the dead or haunted, theme of the persecuted, family-based narratives, questions of self-identity, and relationships. In this paper, we will explore the most common motifs in literature seen from them.

4. The Influence of Gothic Literature on Modern Culture

The Gothic genre has become ingrained in pop culture to such an extent that it now has a dedicated following. Gothic literature has been the inspiration for the architecture of today’s buildings. American castles are built in a Gothic style. Even modern interior design often contains some Gothic element. Medieval castles are the comedic influence for many amusement parks. Numerous video games like “Castlevania” or “Fighting of the Night” survive with a Gothic atmosphere. The huge rise in popularity of reality-based ghost-hunting shows, especially those set in haunted Gothic-style homes, has scared the bejeezus out of many viewers. Shows like “Charmed” or “Disobedience” take familiar Gothic themes of witches and the supernatural and turn them into amusing, often engaging works of proto-lit. Films such as “The Corpse Bride,” “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ghost,” “Underworld,” and “The Crow” all share a Gothic hallmark and often explore other Gothic themes. With these and countless other contributions, the continuation of Gothic influence has further transcended beyond literary points of interest into broader culture points, embedding itself in day-to-day pop culture.

Today, many aspects of Gothic literature have been revealed as embellished and unnecessarily eerie tales, more contrived through earlier preconceived conventions and imaginative writing. These plays, forged from the deep Gothic works, with renditions of ancient elements as well as original works, have assembled themselves together to draw an ever-expanding number of descendants into our current culture. Film, television, and novels all witness the residual impact of Gothic literature. From old-time stories like the Addams family to modern-day thrillers, the offspring of these original tales are clear to view. In a novel, children of “Fantasy Journalism” are written by Tom Wolfe. Too, one can see families like the ever-growing number of lively shifts around Halloween every year. Vampire kisses, the amazing adventures of virgin cat planet, or even the ghost of history’s horror genre. The most obvious recent line of descendants is in the world of cinema. Goth or goth-related themes have existed for a long time, but only recently have they experienced a marked ascent in popularity.

5. Conclusion and Future Directions

Secondly, as the references are set up and classical novels are influential on the literature community, this paper can serve for the next phase of constructing fine-grained networks for theme exploration of Gothic literature. The proposed fine-grained networks thus provide directions and fall within the interests of related researchers. Criteria for a Gothic novel identification are set up in this paper and we tend to classify Gothic literature according to these proposed criteria. In the age of interdisciplinary research, efforts have been made on various subjects. Findings in this paper provide a fascinating aspect to advance and approach the Gothic studies not just in literature, but also in history, art, and psychology, etc. Through the fascinating features and interactive technologies for Gothic studies proposed by such contributions, readers become closer to and more involved in a sea of Gothic literature, in which they can also discover connections, opinions, and knowledge, which in turn will foster our understanding of Gothic literature culture impacts throughout time.

This paper aims to explore the themes and motifs of Gothic literature through novels, reviews, and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams is taken as a leading example. This paper thus offers useful references to study Gothic literature. But there are limitations in this paper. All referred themes and motifs here are not directly presented in Gothic novels, but are the results of reading novels. Since different reviewers or researchers tend to analyze the themes and motifs of the Gothic novel based on their critical views, some themes may be missed out. In future studies, FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) or LDA (Latent Dirichlet Allocation) methods can be applied in David L. Hoover’s version to better uncover the prevailing themes of Caleb Williams. There are totally ten reviews in this paper that not only will investigate [topics] (speech acts, locutionary acts) but provide many emotions and opinions held for a topic. The emotion and context of a topic held by others, on the one hand, help readers quickly understand the novel, and also can be used for examples, which can easily be accepted as objective and convincing evidence.

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