30th October 2018

Gothic fiction has a very distinctive tone which can be characterized by:
darkness and gloom
uncertain landscapes and architecture
wide, remote and isolated expanses
exotic locations

Gothic fiction often uses scenery of decay, death, and morbidity to achieve its effects
The setting

The setting is greatly influential in Gothic novels. It not only evokes the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrays the deterioration of its world – Maycomb, the courthouse, Boo’s house.
The ruins of Gothic buildings gave rise to multiple linked emotions by representing the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations. English Gothic writers often associated medieval buildings with what they saw as a dark and terrifying period, characterized by harsh laws enforced by torture.
Architecture served as an additional character in many Gothic novels, bringing with it associations to the past and to secrets and, in many cases, moving the action along and foretelling future events in the story.

Southern Gothic

Elements found especially in American Gothic fiction include:

  • Evil characters are seen in Gothic literature and especially American Gothic.
  • American Gothic novels also tend to deal with a “madness” in one or more of the characters.
  • Miraculous survivals are elements within American Gothic literature in which a character or characters will somehow manage to survive some feat that should have led to their demise.
  • An element of fear is another characteristic of American Gothic literature. This is typically connected to the unknown and is generally seen throughout the course of the entire novel. This can also be connected to the feeling of despair that characters within the novel are overcome by.
  • Psychological overlay is an element that is connected to how characters within an American Gothic novel are affected by things like their surroundings.

Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters, ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.


The Southern Gothic style employs macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South. Thus unlike its parent genre, it uses the Gothic tools not solely for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South.

There are many characteristics in Southern Gothic Literature that relate back to its parent genre of American Gothic and even to European Gothic. However, the setting of these works are distinctly Southern. Some of these characteristics are exploring madness, decay and despair, continuing pressures of the past upon the present, particularly with the lost ideals of a dispossessed Southern aristocracy and continued racial hostilities.

Southern Gothic particularly focuses on the South’s history of slavery, racism, fear of the outside world, violence, a fixation with the grotesque, and a tension between realistic and supernatural elements.

Similar to the elements of the Gothic castle, Southern Gothic gives us the decay of the plantation in the post-Civil War South.

Villains who disguise themselves as innocents or victims are often found in Southern Gothic Literature, giving us a blurred line between victim and villain.

Southern Gothic literature set out to expose the myth of old antebellum South, and its narrative of an idyllic past hidden by social, familial, and racial denials and suppressions.

“In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.”
This description of Maycomb is foreshadowing and symbolism. It shows the underlying decay in Maycomb. It is used to represent how despite Maycomb looking nice and clean, when you look up close the town is full of decay. It is full of racism, prejudice, and fear.

To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee in the tells the story of Maycomb, a small town in deep south Alabama, and the people that live within it during the 1930s’. It is written from the perspective of Scout Finch, a girl between the ages of 6 and 8. To Kill A Mockingbird uses symbolism to develop the idea of prejudice and how we fear the unknown. These symbols include Tim Johnson, injuries and other ailments, mockingbirds, and Boo Radley and the Radley Place.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a piece of gothic fiction. This means To Kill A Mockingbird uses symbolism in a particular way to show the underlying messages of prejudice and fearing the unknown.

One way it does the is using gothic fiction’s theme of monster/s. At the beginning of the story, Scout and the rest of the children have us convinced that Boo Radley is the monster. “Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained – if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off.” He sounds horrifying. The children; Jem, Scout and Dill, all look like Boo Radley’s potentiel victims. However, the more we learn during the story about the kind of person Boo Radley really is, we discover that the true monsters of the story are ignorance, racism, and violence. And the true victims are Mayella, Tom and Boo.

Another way To Kill A Mockingbird uses the format of gothic fiction is by using decaying buildings or bodies as symbols to heighten the story’s emotional impact and to represent the underlying decay in the story. In To Kill A Mockingbird, decay is brought up often and in many places; in fact, at the start of the novel, the scene is set by showing Maycomb’s decay. “In rainy weather, the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalk, the courthouse sagged in the square.” As well as this, many of Maycomb’s inhabitants have bodies that are broken, infected or off-balance. For example, Atticus is too old to play tackle rugby, and to Scout’s horror, he wears glasses, Mrs. Dubose, a choleric morphine addict has a heinous mouth, Tom’s left arm has been mangled in a cotton gin, and Jem’s left arm is deformed by Ewell.

Ultimately, these broken, off-balance, horrifying attributes of Maycomb represent the corruption and decay of the culture as well as the underlying filth, racism and ignorance of many of the people who live within it.

Tim Johnson is a rabid dog that walks the streets during Tom Robinson’s trial. The fact that Tim Robinson is rabid is a symbol that represents how racism and prejudice spreads from one “infected” person to another like the mob mentality we see used throughout the book.  The fact that Tim Robinson wanders through the town during Tom Robinson’s trial is used to show the underlying unrest and prejudice during the trial. The reason Tim Robinson is used to show prejudice is because prejudice, like rabies, is contagious, makes people crazy and can cause a lot of damage. It is very hard to treat and get rid of. It shows the whole madness that has come over Maycomb during Tom Robinson’s trial.

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