The American Gothic Essay

The American Gothic


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Typical of American gothic fiction, this novel has its setting in an old house, with an atmosphere of mystery, suspense and tension. The plot in this situation is unraveled by discoveries in the supernatural world. There are ghosts, death and murder and this brings in charged environment and continuous nightmares. There are unexplained occurrences such as mysterious sounds and mysterious ailments, such as the one that Madeline suffers from. Somehow, the essence of dreams and nightmares is visible as in the American literature in development of the story and in the lives of the individual people. In this particular novel, we see that to some extend, dreams and nightmares dictate the lives of individuals and hence the turn of events in the novel, yet the author seems to over represent the same compared to the real life situation.

It is believed by scientists that dreams do occur relating to various reasons, categorized into two: the ‘hardware’ siders believe that dreams are mere memories that are brought about by spontaneous firings within brain cells; hence dreams generally tend to mean nothing in real life. On the other hand, ‘software’ siders of the dream cause theories believe that dreams are usually structured, orderly and that they always imply or signify something in life, whether it is forthcoming or whether it is related to something that has already occurred. These software theorists purport that the unconscious mind remains to be part of the installed brain system in man and tends to process and relate emotions in an individual as well as the problems that a person is experiencing in life. They also advocate the fact that insights are also generated during the dreams, while at the same time generating resolutions during sleep (Kaphna 55).

While some assert that dreams are but mere excitations relating to the long-term memory, dreams are generally believed by the majority, to be a form of communication, they transmit a lot of information; help to resolve what seemed unresolved at the earlier part of the day or during a long period of time. Nightmares are the negative dreams and are associated mainly with stress or some trauma occurring to the person.        Also, some specialists in dream interpretation talk about nightmares as being the attempts made by frightened dreamers in running away from dreams in their sleep, considered by them as ‘frightful’ even though the dreams themselves may not actually be, hence it merely implies that effort to move away from the ‘pain’ in their sleep.

The story of the fall of the house of Usher involves a man named Roderick, who actually buries his own twin sister, Madeline, while she is still alive. There is a visitor, who comes in to comfort Roderick, but he runs out on seeing Madeline escape from the tomb. She is looking for revenge, and this is directed at Roderick and the entire house. To support the fact that dreams involve the thoughts and memories that one has at a certain time,  the author actually describes the walls, windows and the entire house as being  horrible and very threatening. Fear and confusion reign, creating a general impression of looming nightmares which occur later on.

The author puts much emphasis on the fact that the role of religious symbolism plays a major role in the nightmares issue. There seems to be entirely no link between the existing repressed anger and the contemporary religion that exist even in the time that the author writes the material and the modern times.  It comes out that the author brings about a kind of unnatural and strange relationship to exist between Roderick and his sister and this is partly what brings about a condition in which there are nightmares. The family is represented as one that is characterized by strange events occurring within it, what can be described as ‘it never produces collateral branches’ (Musembi 23).

Dreams and nightmares help in building the plot in the novel as we can see the repeated sections in which there are nightmares. We see the strange, dreamlike, bewildering, frightening disorderly movements on the corridors of the house which make the visitor to remain worried. There is a general development of the theme in this part.

Dreams and nightmares generally tend to reflect the occurrences of a day, period or at a particular time as we see in the novel, whereby Roderick goes on nail Madeline back into her tomb, using a hammer moving at varied speeds, repeatedly and this leads to coherent flow of the plot to complete the narration. Repeated falling of the hammer helps in emphasizing the theme. We see a dream-like image involving letters and as the visitor picks up one of these books and reads to Roderick to calm him down but then Madeline, a ghost, is heard and he likely smothers away Roderick as the visitor runs for safety.

It is known that personally, the author’s real lifestyle somehow affected the way he represented ideas, people and events in the entire novel. The author himself was known to be a complete dipsomaniac at particular times in his life and he failed to visualize actions in the real world correctly, hence his point of objectivity remains to be in itself, highly questionable.

It can be reliably argued that in the representation of ‘the house of Usher; the author misrepresents the family of that time and the reality of the situation. An example is the way the author represents the roles played by the sister in ensuring that order and typical social standards of the time are maintained.  It also happens that the outstanding differences existing between the male and the female gender tend to be an artificial one. Religion is seen to play a major function in this book in which case it serves to bring in the theme of formalized female power and their ultimate status in n the society. We see religion playing a major role where Roderick considers self-preservation as a motivator to worshipping. This impacts directly on the contemporary life and leads to nightmares with the issue of ‘purification rites’ arising. These are some of the indications that the role of the religion in that particular society was going reverse to the expectation of the society (Nateau 48).

Fear is portrayed to be a major element in the life of both genders then, this leading to much stress among the people. Stress generally leads to the situation, in which nightmares rule for example, in a quote from the novel,

“Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this second and most     extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his demeanor” (Taylor 84).

 Roderick is seen to be ‘validating fear’ and also he is seen to be ‘purging the unclean desire’ and finally, he goes as far as inscribing his own kind of madness. Typically, the fellow is engulfed in a world of his own fear, this does happen in the real world but not to extend and in the environment described in the novel (Nateau 50).

The writer is literary putting reality aside as he portrays the picture of a confused and deranged mind in the characters that accordingly, are not expected to yield much and are hence completely unable to perceive reality well in stead they live in a world of fear, absence of concentration and inability to cope with the real world. The novel somehow exposes the extend to which the writer can take readers to a thriller world full of pictures, away from the reality such that in a much as the plot is sequential and enjoyable to follow through, the reader can hardly focus on the link between the real issue being addressed by the writer and the daily real life experiences.

The mansion finally falls apart at last, signifying the wrath that Madeline brings about the house. There are strange occurrences in the house as the mood changes to become on e of not grief, but tense and hostile.

These dreams do provide a good understanding of the psychological condition of the people involved. The two individuals become terrified, signifying how they were so fearful and how they were afraid of what was coming up in their individual lives.

The writer exposes a property of being self-consumed. Creating such pictures as of a soundless day as illustrated on page 183 and this goes much far beyond normal situation. There is an attempt by the narrator to influence the intellect of the reader by bringing in a power sense, kind of overpowering feeling. Towards the end, we see the house collapsing and this marks the end of the story. This ending seems to be alright and perfect since it reveals that despite the many horrible dreams that the team encounter, there is a chance positive, encouraging   ending as he thinks about the picture of the very house. The hero is hereby represented as having a sad personality, in which case there is no happiness resulting from the persistence of the nightmares in his life (Taylor 74).


            The novel mainly centers on the terrifying life of individuals. The dreams and nightmares tend to reflect major occurrences in the lives of these people such that the more they experience them, the more their lives get terrified and are reduced with no progress.

Although terrifying like in normal life situation, this novel surpasses the real experiences in the real life and also, the occurrences in the lives of the individuals taking part as characters. The story is typically like a horror movie where there is representation of ideas and occurrences in the real life but they are expressed in ways that go far beyond what can happen in real life. In as much as part of the story comes to happen in the lives, whereby the house finally collapses and hence representing the end of the troubles facing them and the persistent nightmares, the closeness with which the writer presents the events is quite much more beyond any objective presentation nor occurrence of events, either in the lives of the individual characters nor in real life situation.

Works cited

Taylor, S. The fall of the house of Usher: a critical view. New York: Willie Sons, 1999.

Nateau, D. Analysis of Poe’s works. New York: Prentice Hall, 2004.

Musembi, K. Interpretation of the fall of Usher’s House. New Jersey: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Kaphna, P. Psychological abstracts. Haworth: Haworth Press, 1998.