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Gothic Elements in House of Leaves

Gothic Elements in House of Leaves

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a contemporary novel that contains the four characteristics of the Gothic novel: architecture, death and decay, family secrets, and deviant sexuality. It also contains some elements of the American Gothic such as mental instability and drugs and alcohol.

Architecture by far, plays the greatest role in the book. The house itself causes the events in the book to unfold. Supposedly built in 1720, it has housed approximately 0.37 owners a year, most of who were traumatized in some way. William (Navy) and Karen Navidson, the current owners of the house, are included in this select group. Though they move into the house as an attempt to repair their marriage, it is what that ultimately drives them apart. The first sign of trouble is the appearance of a long, cold, dark hallway. The house, larger on the inside than it is on the outside, causes Navidson to investigate the house and serves as the catalyst for the destruction that follows.

The exploration of the house reveals a series of labyrinth-like hallways, twisting and turning like the convolutions of the brain. The house, a representation of the brain and the human psyche, are even linked to the mind. For example, when Holloway and his men (the people Navidson hires to explore the house) descend the stairs, they expect it to be long and it takes them several days to descend it. When Navidson reaches the stairs, he expects it to be short and it takes only five minutes to descend. The house bends to their expectations.

The house is similar to the mind in other ways. It houses inner demons and fears, which can be heard stalking its prey. It also contains a “basement”…

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…the bottom of the page. When they were at the top of the stairs the words were at the top. Another example is the section on Holloway. In it there are missing words, missing pieces of words, and even missing sentences. His account has “hollow sections.” In fact there are other sections of the book that lack parts. This is another element of the gothic: obscurity.

Thus, Mark Z. Danieleski’s House of Leaves contains many gothic elements. It has family secrets, sexual deviance, architecture, and death and decay present in the different layers of the story. Just as the story has many layers so does the house. It appears idyllic and serene on the outside, but on the inside is a den of darkness and death. Perhaps as someone in the book has claimed, it is the collective product of every inhabitant’s agonies. Whatever the cause of the house, it remains an enigma.

Use of the Female Gothic in Beloved

Use of the Female Gothic in Beloved

Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is a slave narrative, but it encompasses much more than slavery. Unlike many slave narratives that focus on the male perception of slavery, Morrison’s novel portrays slavery from a feminine point of view. The main characters are Sethe, her daughter, Denver, and the mysterious Beloved. In the beginning of the novel, Sethe and her daughter live alone in 124, a house that is haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s first daughter. Sethe’s two older boys, “Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old. Soon after the sons have fled, Baby Suggs, Denver’s grandmother, dies. The novel centers on Sethe’s past, in particular, the death of her first daughter. This event dominates the book and the action of the novel revolves around this terrible incident. In Beloved, Toni Morrison utilizes characteristics of the female gothic novel such as mothering, living within enclosed spaces, and the doubling of characters, coupled with dilemmas involving memory and repression, to address the issue of slavery.

Beloved illustrates the notion of the gothic mother through the character of Sethe. Her motherly love is turned into a horrific image of mercy, one that many find difficult to understand. At the time, slaves were valued as property. They were bred as if they were horses, with their young snatched away from them, often at birth, and no chance of having a family. Many children were “permanently separated from any other family members, [and] did not know if or when they would ever see their mother[s] again” (King 527). Sethe describes her own childhood experience with the woman she knew as her mother and it is typical of the experi…

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…illions of lives and Morrison gives those lives names and faces. The narrative form is an effective tool to bring the reality of slavery and all its misery into everyday life.

Works Cited

Goddu, Teresa A. Gothic America. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.

King, Wilma. “Within the Professional Household: Slave Children in the Antebellum South.” The Historian 59.3 (1997): 523-540.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin Group, 1987.

Samuels, Wilfred and Clenora Hudson-Weems. Ed. Toni Morrison. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. New York: Methuen, 1976.

Smith, Valerie. “Circling the Subject: History and Narrative in Beloved.” Toni Morrison. Henry Gates, Jr. and K.A. Appiah. Ed. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.

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