America is haunted, by headless horsemen and bloody battles, by addiction and a self gratifying obsession with immortality. America has a long-standing tradition with the gothic, and some of our most widely recognized authors, such as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King, a more recent author borrowed from popular literature, utilize it frequently if not wholly in their writing. The gothic is an intrinsic part of our national identity, inhabiting our folklore, our literature, and influencing the way in which we view our celebrities and ultimately, ourselves.
In his commentary on the gothic, Nightmare on Main Street, Mark Edmunson offers his take on the relationship between national identity and the form:
Unsentimental, enraged by gentility and high-mindedness, skeptical about progress in any form, the Gothic mind is antithetical to all smiling American faiths. A nation of ideals, America has also been, not surprisingly, a nation of hard disillusionment, with a fiercely reactive Gothic Imagination. (4-5)
There is much to American Gothicism. It lies deeply in the conscious awareness of the culture. Its roots are as diverse as the witch trials and the knowledge that one race of people committed genocide against another in order to obtain the land where our most illustrious universities and homogenous strip malls now sit. The character of America is in itself a gothic one. We hold aloft one set of ideas about freedom and equality, while graciously looking the other way when the savage hypocrisy that keeps the daily functions of life on an even keel rears its ugly ...
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...st beneath the surface of our every day realities.
Edmunson, Mark. Nightmare on Main Street. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Lauter, Paul, et al., eds. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. Vol 1. New York: Haughton Mifflin Co., 1997.
Irving, Washington. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Lauter et al. 1354-1373.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "Ligeia." Lauter et al. 1450-1461.
Ringe, Donald A. American Gothic: Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Lexington KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1982.
Savoy, Eric. "The Face of the Tenant: A Theory of American Gothic." American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative. Ed. Robert K. Martin et al. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1998. 3-19.
White, Craig. Lecture. University of Houston-Clear Lake. Clear Lake, TX, 6 March. 2001
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