Gothic Literature

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Student Question

What aspects of urban settings contribute to Urban Gothic Literature's classification as Gothic? How does it connect with psychology and metaphorical interpretations?

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The Gothic element in literature goes at least as far back to the time of publication of Jane Eyre and Pamela.  In these, the setting of the various households, although in the countryside, the old decaying manses as a background create that aspect of the dark, disordered, and irrational, particularly since the stories revolve around sexual themes.

The term "Gothic" itself originates from the pointed arches used in the building of cathedrals in the High Middle Ages in Europe around 1200.  Clearly, these Medaeval structures influenced a style of building for many centuries; by the time that the novels were written in the late 1700's, "Gothic" could be synonymous with "decay."

In our own time, it is easy to see how the term is applied to various parts of the urban environment, when its understood to reflect a sense of the dark, disordered and irrational.  Movies such as Blade Runner or Batman convey this experience of urban decay.

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I think you're already on your way to answering your own question, but I'll take my shot at helping to explain the concept.

Urban gothic isn't a new term, as far as I know, and was used to describe some late nineteenth-century novels in which, for examples, young women who came to a big city for work ended up imprisoned by an evil man in some beautiful-appearing home. As I understand the term, gothic often refers to decay, decline, confinement, fear, irrationality, and a number of other dark elements. These elements can be found in cities at least as easily as in the countryside.

When I think of gothic literature, my first thought is of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher." The house -- with its vacant windows and cracked foundation -- is out in the country. The abandoned warehouses that you mention in your question seem very much like the urban equivalent of that decaying estate.

When it comes to psychology and the gothic, my first thought is of Sigmund Freud, who famously attempted to explore the dark, irrational elements in the human mind. Freud's concept of "the return of the repressed" seems to me to be clearly manifested in gothic literature of all sorts: insanity takes over characters despite their struggles to remain sane, people you though were dead smash their way out of crypts, etc.

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