Let's first look for the elements that are ever-present in the Gothic genre. These elements consist on specific literary devices which authors use, particularly in the setting, to convey feelings of nostalgia, desperation, coldness, isolation, inevitability and sadness. These are signature sensations that make the Gothic genre such a popular one among readers.
This latter statement helps to answer the question as to why people seem to be drawn to a darker side of the human interior. The answer is found in the emotions that the Gothic genre evokes, which were just indicated.
As human beings, we are deeply flawed individuals. Still, we have a monumental task ahead of us the day that we are born: To lead fruitful lives despite of the variables that may change life forever: health, fate, luck, money, love, and even death. The fact that literature is capable of mirroring our feelings, when circumstances change our original life plans, makes us feel drawn to it. Literature helps us see that those feelings of anxiety and deep sadness are normal, and that we are not the first, nor will we be the last, to ever experience them.
Elements of Gothic Literature
Having established the emotions that are evoked by Gothic literature, here are the basic elements that are present in all Gothic works, which are also responsible for the feelings that are conveyed. For further information, refer to the Handbook of Gothic Literature by Marie Mulvey-Roberts (1998) as an additional resource.
1. Isolation and abandonment- All Gothic words are primarily intended to take place in a manor, castle, or any remote location where anything can happen. Notice that The Fall of the House of Usher and Ligeia both meet this criteria in that the actual Usher estate rests in the middle of nowhere, and that there is an old English abbey in Ligeia which is also isolated. Moreover, both settings seem to have endured the effects of isolation, as they are dilapidated and look abandoned.
2. Inevitability of fate and death- This means that there is something or someone in the literary work who is affected directly by something that is beyond their control. In Usher we know that the family has a genetic predisposition that renders them weak and sickly, until they ultimately die. Death is also ever-present in Ligeia, where the two wives of the narrator die young and beautiful, which makes the central story all the more tragic.
3. Nature versus man- The forces of nature seem to fight against the characters in Gothic literature. There is either constant bad weather, or non-stop snow, coldness, thunder, or lightning. This is another way to show yet another element that we cannot control directly affecting the characters' lives.
4. Nostalgia and darkness- The isolation of the settings, combined with locations that are of historical significance, such as Usher's family estate, or Ligeia's old abbey, remind us of "good times gone by", where all that is left are the remnants of once-happy and grandiose places.These are details that evoke nostalgia and melancholy.
Darkness is also an important factor to the setting, whether it is actual darkness (night time, dark December, winter), or whether the atmosphere feels that something "dark" and mysterious lurks around. Darkness always implies the possibility of the unexpected coming up into the light. That element of suspense is essential to complete the Gothic experience.
In order to decide whether Edgar Allan Poe uses these Gothic techniques effectively, the first question to answer would be: Does the author convey in his writings the emotions discussed previously? Is he able to make the reader feel nostalgic, sad, and connected to the main suffering of the characters who are affected by fate? Considering the popularity and relevance of Poe's works, it is safe to argue that the technique was used effectively enough to still move the emotions of generations of readers for well- over 150 years.