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Adeline Laurente
Mrs. Martino
AP Composition pd. 3
21 November 2011
Gothic Literature Displays Hidden Darkness of the Human Condition
Aspects of Gothic literature often include elements that shock or place terror in the reader.
However, many times discoveries of the human condition can be determined while reading
different pieces of Gothicism. In the short stories The Fall of the House of Usher, written by
Edgar Allen Poe, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street, written by Herman Melville,
and The Lottery, written by Shirley Jackson, are all pieces of Gothic literature that discover
different human conditions. These short stories display that outcasts from society exist because
of the peculiar actions seen in the characters. Hypocrisy is often seen in Gothic literature when
events do not go as expected according to the society. Also, characters often go through strange
effects when placed in a situation where they encounter an unfamiliar change. The elements of
Gothicism displayed in the short stories The Fall of the House of Usher, Bartleby the Scrivener,
and The Lottery reflect aspects of the human condition because the purpose of the gothic authors
is to display the darkness of the human condition in a society.
In all of the short stories mentioned, there are characters or communities that are
excluded from society because of their peculiarity and abnormal characteristics. The different
societies displayed in each of the short stories include the rejection of a certain character or
group. Societies desire to renounce these characters because they do not want any disruptions of
the customary and familiar aspects of their normal lives. When anyone or anything disturbs the
composure of the community, the characters and other elements of the society will try to fix the
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problem and restore order. However, if they cannot find a way to fix the situation, they will try
their best to remove disruption from the rest of society. In The Fall of the House of Usher the
entire Usher family is ostracized from the rest of society because of their strange and unorthodox
practice of incest. Gothic literature often includes a curse on a certain group of people because of
an original sin committed by their ancestors. The Usher family is the victim of this curse, causing
them to also be a victim to society. The narrator takes note of the Usher family’s difference as he
discusses Roderick Usher and states “that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of
mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament” (Poe 4). The rest of society notes the peculiarity
of the Usher family, and because of their difference they ostracize them from their community.
Gothicism often includes situations where a society excommunicates anyone who disrupts the
familiar culture of expected human conditions.
The exclusion of any characters showing peculiarity is also displayed in the short story,
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street. The character, Bartleby, shows indifference to his
required tasks as he repeatedly replies to requests with the phrase “I would prefer not to”
(Melville 6). This response contradicts with the ideals of the Wall-street community. The
elements of Gothicism make other characters, who are accustomed to society, look down on
Bartleby’s actions. His unfamiliar actions are shocking to the rest of society, causing them to
grow angry, confused, and “think that he is a little deranged” (23). When they discover that they
cannot convince Bartleby to adapt to the Wall Street society, they try to exclude him and plead
that someone “must take him away, sir, at once” (20). Gothicism shows that whenever the
unexpected occurs and disrupts familiarity, society will pursue to remove the problem if they
cannot make the disruption conform to the rest of the people.
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The darkness of the human condition can also be displayed in the hypocrisy of characters
throughout different Gothic literatures. When events contradict with the expectance of a
character’s view of society, hypocrisy often occurs. Members of societies in Gothic literature
often follow a similar path in life. However, whenever members of a society believe that a
situation is disagreeable to their liking, they begin to grow hypocritical. In The Lottery,
hypocrisy is found in the character Tessie Hutchinson. When she discovers that the ritual her
town practices, which has been practiced for years, is not to her liking, she rebels. She tries to
reason her way out of death by continually pleading “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right” (Jackson 7). This
piece of Gothic literature shows that humans can turn on their beliefs whenever the situation is
not pleasing to them. Humans who are part of a corrupt society will only find their lives at peace
until a situation is not in their favor. Gothicism helps discover that humans will turn on what they
are accustomed to whenever a situation is disagreeable.
Gothicism also includes highly charged emotional states, which many of the characters in
all of the short stories discussed encounter. The prevailing charged emotional states that occur in
these particular short stories the most are terror and the feeling of the brink of insanity. The
characters experience these feelings because they are placed in situations where they are
threatened with change. Because they accustom themselves to the ideals of their society, they do
not know how to react to a change in environment. In The Fall of the House of Usher, the
narrator feels terror and insanity after being in the Usher house for too long. The environment of
the Usher house changes him and he begins to feel insanity coming as “An irrepressible tremor
gradually pervaded my frame” (Poe 11). In Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street, the
narrator and his other employees are affected by the actions of Bartleby. He changes the
environment of the office and his peculiarity instills a slight terror in the other workers because
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they do not know how to react to the mysterious change. The narrator does not know how to
react to the change and admits that Bartleby’s actions “had such a strange effect upon me”
(Melville 10). In The Lottery, the entire community feels terror during the actual drawing ritual.
There is an unspoken fear among the people as “they grinned at one another humorlessly and
nervously” (Jackson 3). Everyone in the community knows that there is a chance that a drastic
change will occur in their family. Gothicism shows that humans are prone to charged emotional
states when change is threatening to their wellbeing.
Although the ideals of Gothic literature often display situations that are mysterious and
fearful, a deeper meaning in the text can still be found. In particular, the darkness of human
conditions in different societies can be found in the short stories The Fall of the House of Usher,
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street, and The Lottery. Gothicism shows that any aspect
or being that is different from society’s established values will be rejected. Hypocrisy will occur
in people who encounter situations that do not go as expected. When placed in a situation of
unfamiliar change, people will experience charged emotional states, which they usually do not
know how to react to. Gothicism helps expose the problems of different societies subtly. The
darkness of Gothic literature is usually the result of the different problems. Gothicism reveals the
darkness of human conditions in a society that is not accustomed to any abnormalities.
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Works Cited
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. New York: New Yorker, 1948. Print.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street. New York:
Putnam's Magazine, 1853. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Fall of the House of Usher. Philadelphia: Burton's
Gentleman's Magazine, 1839. Print.

Laurente Adeline Laurente Mrs. Martino AP Composition pd. 3 21