Gothic Fiction, Discussion and Characteristics
Gothic fiction is a form of literature that falls in the realm of romantic literature. It traces its roots back in England in the late 18th century to the early 19th century, before it spread to the United States and other parts of the world. A look at two gothic short stories written in this period reveals some of the characteristics that are very much inherent to the gothic fiction, and although some of these characteristics are shared, especially in the realm of romantic literature, gothic literature lays emphasis on these characteristics. Thus, it is important to assess the characteristics evident in the gothic narratives of The Minister’s Black Veil and The Fall of the House of Usher.
In looking at the characteristics of gothic fiction and especially with an emphasis on discussing The Minister’s Black Veil and The Fall of the House of Usher, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe respectively, we should look first at the writers. Both writers thrived in the era of European and even American intellectual movement of the early 19 century, which was characterized by ideal conditions for writing by capturing broad points of view. This was because there was increased freedom from previously rigid socio-political constraints.
In discussing the two short stories, focus should be on the individual stories.
The Minister’s Black Veil
The story is centered around one person the reverend of Milford, Parson Hooper who arrives on church one Sabbath covered with a black veil on his eyes. Even with this, the reverend delivers a powerful sermon amidst the gossip of the town’s people who believe that he had gone mad or was hiding some sin or shame. The reverend continues to veil his eyes henceforth, but his behavior does not change. Later on, the reverend attends a funeral and a wedding where he lives early after being scared of his reflection in the glass when he was toasting. The minister veils himself from his lover Elizabeth whom he does not give a clear reason for his veil. Elizabeth later leaves him casting him in more sadness.
The reverend continues to wear the veil for the rest of his life. He is shrouded in mystery and suspicion for the rest of his life. The reverend, at his deathbed, refuses to remove the veil and points an accusing finger at the crowd calling them hypocrites. The reverend dies and is buried adorning black veil. When the reverend started to wear the veil, he continued to gather more people to the church and became a more efficient preacher, and even at death, the people continued to shudder when they pictured his veiled corpse lying in the grave (Hawthorne, 26).
The Fall of the House of Usher
This story is centered on Roderick’s friend, the House of Usher, Roderick and his sister Madeline. Roderick had sent his friend a letter requesting his company since he was physically and emotionally ill. There is a resemblance of an intergenerational curse in the Usher family where only one person survives in each generation. When the friend arrives, he finds the place awkward both on the inside and outside. Roderick and his sisters are ill. Roderick’s friend embarks on his undertaking of trying to cheer him up by listening to him, playing the guitar and reading to him to no avail. Madeline dies, and Roderick buries her below the house fearing that the doctors will dig her up to examine the strange sickness that killed her. After several days, Madeline comes back to life and attacks Roderick who dies in shock as life leaves Madeline. Roderick’s friend flees in shock as the house crumbles to its foundation (Poe, 35).
Characteristics of gothic fiction brought out in the two stories include protagonists, emotions and mystery.
Entrapment of Protagonists
In both of these stories, there is an element of entrapment whereby, in the first story, the Minister’s Black Veil, the Reverend is viewed as being trapped in pain and sadness but also in sin under his veil. The Reverend, Mr. Hooper is trapped by the same secret sin that he preaches about to the congregation. Additionally, the element of entrapment is passed on from the Reverend to the congregation who are trapped by their secret sin sand therefore fear the thought of having them exposed. Accordingly, the entrapment symbolized by the veil forced the Reverend to recoil to a world of pain and sadness illustrated by the departure of his fiancee, Elizabeth and the brotherhood, resulting entirely from the Minister’s refusal to get rid of the black veil.
In the second story, The Fall of the House of Usher, the entrapment comes in the form of bondage by disease. The main character, Roderick Usher, is trapped by his innate expectations based on the illness that he thinks he has. Accordingly, Roderick believes that he already has the illness regardless of any proof of the disease since he believes that it is based on family history. Additionally, the House of Usher is in form, an entrapment of the protagonist. This is based on the House being connected to the Usher family. In this case, the deterioration of the House of usher signifies the decay of the Usher family such that death of the Usher siblings leads to death of the House thus indicating the entrapment the Usher family faced.
The aspect of emotion is also evident in both stories characterized by the various actions that both protagonists perform. In the Minister’s Black Veil, the Reverend, Mr. Hooper, elicits a considerable emotion of fear. The fear, as an emotion, is elicited onto the congregation based on the sermon that the Minister gives based on secret sin, a matter that scares the congregation as they are well aware of what the content of the sermon. Additionally, there are emotional instances of gloom within the narrative. This is depicted by the instance where the Minister, still donning his black veil, attends a colorful wedding, and reduces it to an event of murkiness. Additionally, sadness is reflected in the narrative whereby the Minister refuses to unveil himself in front of his fiancee, Elizabeth, who chooses to leave him, hence causing him to be considerably sad. Grief is also evident whereby Elizabeth, though not engaged anymore to the Minister, expresses grief as Hooper lies on his deathbed.
Emotion is also evident in The Fall of the House of Usher. Fear is evident in the narrative. The narrator in the story expresses that the protagonist, Roderick Usher, who is his childhood friend, seems to be scared of his very own abode. There is also emotional disorder characterized by the emotions of depression. This is illustrated where the protagonist is in a constant state of depression regardless of the narrator’s efforts to cheer him. The feeling of guilt is also another emotion that the protagonist expresses in considerable detail. In The Fall of the House of Usher, the narrator and Roderick Usher begin hearing vague sounds. Guilt is realized when Roderick expresses that he had been hearing the sounds for a longer time and that he had ignored the possibility that he had buried his sister alive.
Mystery is also an element that is evident in the two narratives. In The Minister’s Black Veil, the donning of the black veil by Mr. Hooper elicits the aspect of mystery to the congregation who considers the act puzzling and begins speculating. Additionally, the aspect of mystery is also evident in the narrative where children become puzzled about Mr. Hooper’s veil and the reasons for his weird act. Additionally, Mr. Hooper leaves Elizabeth in a shroud of mystery as she attempts to inquire about his reason for wearing the veil in which the Minister denies to reveal. Mystery is also evident in The Fall of the House of Usher. For instance, the House of Usher is in itself a mystery to the narrator. The narrator is suspicious and clueless as to why he is alone within the haunted space within the house. Additionally, mystery is illustrated where the Roderick’s identity is vague to the narrator irrespective of them being boyhood friends. The fact that Roderick also has a twin sister is a complete mystery to the narrator. Another mystery that is evident in the narrative is illustrated where the intentions of the narrator for being at the haunted house are unknown as well as the mysterious disease that the family suffers.
In conclusion, gothic fiction provides a very interesting and captivating literature because of the mystery and emotional content. It allows the reader to invoke a vivid imagination and depiction of the narratives based on the descriptive writing styles that the two writers utilize within the different stories. The two writers went into a great extent to bring out the aforementioned characteristics.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil,” Twice-told tales
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Fall of the House of Usher,” Burton Gentleman Magazine