110 Poe and King sitting on a throne of skulls

Willow Moulton


I have always believed Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King were the kings of American Gothic Literature, both of them sitting on a throne made up of skulls and bones together because I couldn’t pick one or the other. American Gothic to me is the written words that make your skin crawl and your heart beat a little faster. It’s not about someone wearing black and walking creepily. It’s about the deep descriptions of something like a heart beating underneath the floorboards. Something where you can picture it in your mind even though you’ve never seen something like it in real life. For example, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the four men have to decide who is going to die to quench their thirst and starvation. “Let it suffice to say that, having in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the blood of the victim, and having by the common consent taken off the hands, feet, and head, throwing them, together with entrails, into the sea, we devoured the rest of the body (Poe 81). To me, it’s the word choice in making the situation that is already gothic more alive to readers: raging, consumed, victim, entrails, devoured.

American Literature texts such as Benito Cereno could be considered to have gothic examples but the overall text is not gothic; I can only pick out one or two descriptions from the book that are gothic while in Poe’s, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket I can pick out more than I can count on both hands. British Gothic Literature has a lot of the same characteristics as American Gothic Literature, such as supernatural beings such as ghosts, curses and prophecies. But one thing that is different in the two is that British Gothic Literature includes a lot of romance while American Gothic doesn’t as much.

When I think of an original British Gothic text, I think of Dracula. It was supposed to be creepy in that vampires are dark human beings looking to drink your blood but in the original book the women who was getting her blood drank was always made out to be sexy and weak to bring in the romance. Not to say American Gothic Literature doesn’t have romance but British Gothic has so much more. American Literature does have the Twilight series but there was also a lot of Edgar Allan Poe kind of goth in the books when the main character, Bella was getting her leg snapped. Poe shows so much gothic literature in Pym just by describing simple things like the water having eyes, or the majestic appearance of the animal they found. It’s more about his descriptions of things rather than just the action taking place itself. Poe could make anything gothic with his descriptions, even a normal morning jog.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Willow Moulton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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