American Gothic: The Dark Side Of Individualism Essay, Research Paper
After the real horrors of the Civil War, the popularity of Gothic writing dramatically decreased in the United States. The Romantic Movement that had spawned the Gothic tradition was replaced by realism. It was until the twentieth century that the Gothic tradition was revitalization. The revitalization of the Gothic spirit was particularly felt in the American South. Modern Southern writers including William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, and Flannery O’Connor made Southern Gothic unique and attracting to readers. These writers were often grouped together in the Southern Gothic tradition because of the gloom and pessimism of their fiction.
Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Flannery O’Connor wrote stories filled with grotesque characters, violence, and bizarre situations. O’Connor never tells the reader directly whether her characters are good or evil; she wants the reader to make his own judgment based on the characters’ thoughts, words, and actions. She successfully uses this technique in The Life You Save May Be Your Own to guide and manipulate the reader’s judgment about the characters. The story The Life You Save May Be Your Own is very much a part of Southern Gothic because the writing includes aspects of the Southern Gothic tradition.
Southern Gothic writing was populated with misfits, fanatics, and manipulative con artists obsessed with innocence and corruption, salvation and damnation. “When [Southern Gothic] writers looked at the individual, they saw potential evil” (353). Flannery O’Connor expressed this potential evil in the character of Tom T. Shiftlet. He was a manipulative con artist without a conscience who preyed on the innocent and trustworthy.
The story had many Gothic aspects in its setting because the “fictional world offered…a way to explore the human [heart] in extreme situations and so arrive at an essential truth” (353). “The crumbling medieval castle…became the decaying plantation, with its fallen aristocratic family isolated in time and place” (354). A decaying house provided “the setting for the weird and terrifying events” (353) in the story. O’Connor used these Gothic elements in her fiction to express what she felt were important truths.
The revitalization of the Gothic tradition was essential to the increase in popularity of Flannery O’Connor and many other modern Southern Gothic writers. Their works of writing can be grouped together in the category of Southern Gothic because of the gloom and pessimism of their fiction. William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor and others Southern writers are the key components to the uniqueness and attractiveness that makes Southern Gothic in a category of its own.
April 1, 1998
English III Honors