Both Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne may be classified as writers of the gothic fiction genre in English Literature. Gothic literature is characterized by themes of darkness, such as death, dread and decay. In Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart, death is a central concern. The protagonist is simply obsessed with the idea of committing murder. Instability and insanity are also very typical of gothic fiction, and the protagonist embodies both qualities in spite of his repeated insistence that he is quite sane. The architecture in this story is also quite Gothic – it is falling apart and is quite gloomy and dim.
The use of the floorboards to hide the old man’s body echoes the gothic elements of underground and subterranean activities in both the literal and metaphorical senses. The horrors and neuroses that occupy gothic characters are quite evidently present in Poe’s short story. The excesses of emotion and heightened sense of horror captured in the story is essential to a piece of gothic fiction. Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown uses the typically gothic instrument of dreams as a means of carrying forward the action in the text.
Dreams also serve to heighten the element of the supernatural and horror in the gothic text. The presence of the typical damsel in distress female character i. e. Faith and the Devil itself are some of the typical Gothic elements in Hawthorne’s work. The concepts of the staff as a symbol of evil and other Christian references may be interpreted as Gothic in this short story. Goodman’s quest for Faith is symbolic and works throughout the novel aided by the various Gothic elements of dreams, trances and desperation.
The story examines how Goodman can be anyone at all. The most terrifying realization is that anyone at all is capable of great evil. Gothic themes of isolation are explored to drive this point home. More than anything else, both stories serve to employ the gothic genre in order to explore human nature and the consequences of human action, especially crime and the psychological motivations behind it. They go beyond sensationalism and explore real human emotions and the human condition using the gothic genre to heighten the experience for the reader.
They explore the broad concepts of human beings and society and the web of relationships and influences that co-exist because of them. In exploring perversions they actually delve deep into the human psyche and invoke the horror of Gothic fiction to analyze the horror possible in daily human contact and regular human thoughts. The failure of the protagonists to see the larger picture or recognize their own insanity and guilt as well as their deep realization of these feelings despite their denial of them are what make the Gothic elements in these texts so effective.