How does isolation create fear in Gothic Literature?

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Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The characters of Gothic literature are often subjected to episodes involving ghosts and apparitions, sources of fear, terror, and even death. Whether or not the reader deems these ghosts as "real," they are able to exist in the context of the story precisely because of isolated setting.

Take for instance Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, which takes place (for the most part) in a series of large, sprawling English manors. Early in the novel, a young Jane Eyre is harshly sequestered in "the Red Room" by her callous aunt. The unsettled spirit of little Jane's deceased uncle confronts and terrorizes the child in the room. Whether it is a psychic projection of fear or a literal ghost, this haunting takes place in the context of Jane's isolation. Jane matures into a rather brave adult, but there are other points in the book in which her isolation from other people and resources results in her being uncertain, and even, for a time, homeless and destitute (certainly a frightening condition).

"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James also contains such a process of separation and consequent fear. The narrator is a governess with two charges, Miles and Flora. The children are plagued by visions, visits, and even directions from the ghosts of their deceased former caretakers (a governess and a valet). Miles and Flora are extremely isolated. They are separated from other children and any family in a remote estate with only the house's staff to look to for guidance. Once again, whether it is a mental manifestation or a real set of ghosts, these children are haunted because they are isolated and have become ensnared with the terrifying presence of the former valet and governess.

Fear, gloominess, madness, and uncertainty abound in Gothic literature. Instances of ghost stories and hauntings within this genre can be a helpful way to characterize the manifestation of isolation and fear.

kabate6590 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gothic literature refers to the genre of literature that uses dark and frightening imagery and scenery, dramatic plot lines, and exotic and mysterious characters. This genre of writing also often employs elements of romance and the supernatural. 

Because of these elements of magic and melodrama, characters are often isolated either physically, emotionally, or mentally in order to create an atmosphere of fear. In using aspects, such as the supernatural or magic, that are unfamiliar to us, gothic authors also isolate the reader, adding another element of fear.

One of the most famous gothic novels, Dracula, uses this practice of isolating the characters, as well as the reader, to instill fear. Count Dracula himself is isolated in his role as vampire, and he then subsequently isolates other characters in order to attack them. Even his journey on the Russian ship, when the captain is described as the only crew member found, instills fear, because it leaves the reader to imagine the fearful situation of isolation the captain must have been in before his gruesome end.

Gothic literature uses several elements in order to instill fear, and the act of isolation is one of the most important.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many characteristics of Gothic Literature are designed to instill fear in both the reader and the characters.

First, many times a victim is held against his or her will. Typically, the victim is isolated in order to show the inner workings of their mind during this time. Their fear is compounded by the unknown (who is with them, what is to come of them, and their isolation). That being said, many times, this isolation is takes place in areas of darkness. Given that darkness is another fear for many people, the combination of isolation and darkness can be far too overwhelming and plays into the fears of both the reader and the character.

Many times the setting is in a castle, abandoned house, or other alienated dwelling. Given the setting typically is isolated itself, the character's isolation compounds their fears. They can feel twice removed from society given not only are they apart from society, they are imprisoned as well.