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Gothic in “A Rose for Emily” and “Young Goodman Brown”


Given the fact that stories “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner can be thought of as such that sublimate the particularities of authors’ Romanticist worldview, it would be logical, on our part, to expect strongly defined Gothic elements being present in these stories, as Romanticist perception of surrounding reality implies the existence of dark, supernatural forces, which affect people’s existence, even though that people often do not even realize this fact. In his article “The Gothic Other”, Ron Burton is making a good point when he says: “One of the most intriguing aspects of American Romanticism is the Gothic element. Darkness and isolation from society or self, creates a terrifying experience within the reader – a fear of the unknown and great danger lurking at every corner plagues the Romantic hero and heroine” (Butrton 2008). The reading of Hawthorne and Faulkner’s stories substantiates the validity of this suggestion, because these stories’ main characters do not only find themselves being affected by existential negativity, but they come to realization of the fact that they actually radiate such negativity. In its turn, this unmistakably points out at both authors’ subconscious belief in the duality of human nature (one of the most characteristic traits of Romanticist literature). This is the reason why, even though that both stories’ main characters Emily Grierson and Goodman Brown are being initially described as people with rather acute sense of virtuousness, by the time stories end, readers get to recognize Emily Grierson and Goodman Brown as essentially dark, gothic individuals, capable of adopting evilness as the essential part of their identity. In this paper, we will aim at identifying both stories’ gothic elements of narration to a further extent, while revealing them as such that represent Hawthorne and Faulkner’s strong affiliation with the ideals of literary Romanticism.

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One of the most striking features of Gothic tales is the fact that the actual message they convey to readers, can only be fully recognized, for as long as readers are being instilled with a certain mood, before they even get to be exposed to these stories’ semantic connotation. This is the reason why in both: “Young Goodman Brown” and “A Rose for Emily”, authors spend a great deal of time, while encouraging readers to adopt a dark perceptional attitude towards stories’ actual meaning, even before this meaning is being recognized by them for what it really signifies. While reading about Goodman Brown’s journey through the forest at night, we get to realize that he is up to no good, simply because of the contextual aspects of this journey: “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (Hawthorne). The ominous looking leafless tress has always been the traditional element of Gothic tales, because exposing readers to the sight of such trees, creates a particularly strong semiotic effect. In a similar manner, Faulkner establishes mood of evil unnaturalness, while describing Grierson’s residence “It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps—an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner). In other words, even before readers get to the point when the horrible truth about Emily’s existential seclusion is being revealed to them, they already know that there is something utterly wrong about story’s main character, because the façade of propriety, she strived to maintain about herself, did not correspond to whom she really was. In her article “Making a Spectacle: Welty, Faulkner, and Southern Gothic”, Susan Donaldson comes up with the suggestion that it is namely the fact that Faulkner strived to portray Emily being more of a man then a woman, in psychological context of this word, which had set her on the “path of unnaturalness”: “Faulkner creates short stories about dangerous women who serve as disrupters of male narratives and as signifiers of the breakdown of cultural narratives of traditional manhood and womanhood” (Donaldson 570). As we have mentioned earlier, it is namely the concept of “unnaturalness”, which serve as main scarifying factor, within Gothic stories. Therefore, there can be no doubt as to the fact that “A Rose for Emily” fits perfectly well into the genre of Gothic Romanticism, because it fuses the notions of unnaturalness and horror into one inseparable amalgam. In its turn, this explains story’s ending being shockingly horrifying – It might be repulsive to observe a dead body, after car accident, for example. But it is not scary. Scary is when dead body begins to talk, when chairs walk or when dead tree’s branch blossoms. At the end of “A Rose for Emily”, we get to realize that, while pursuing with seemingly normal, although secluded lifestyle, Emily actually acted as the agent of death; thus, defying the very laws of nature.

The Gothic notion of unnaturalness also serves as the foremost scarifying motif in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”. One of the most memorable story’s scenes is when Brown meets Goody Cory amidst the dark woods in the middle of the night. This woman had taught Brown catechism and was traditionally thought of as one of the most upstanding members of Salem’s Puritan community – yet, she is being presented as someone quite acquainted with the devil himself: “’The devil!’ screamed the pious old lady. ‘Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?’ observed the traveler, confronting her and leaning on his writhing stick” (Hawthorne). This passage in Hawthorne’s story can be thought of an undeniable proof as to “Young Goodman Brown” overall Gothic sounding, because it promotes the idea that darkness can even be found in those who radiate light, and vice versa. In her article “Carnivalesque Freedom in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown”, Selina Jamil states: “As story’s unofficial discourse suggests, evil is a necessary part of good. Hence, despite suffering from doubt and despair, Goodman Brown tries to protect a “little girl” and thus instinctively snatches her from Goody Cloyse’s clutches” (Jamil 143). Moreover, Gothic worldview implies that those who have been touched by evil, will never be the same. This is the reason why in his story, Hawthorne makes it clear that, ever since Goodman Brown has had the experience of socializing with the devil (no matter whether such experience was real or imaginary), his life will forever remain affected by it: “And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne). Thus, in his story, Hawthorne does not simply imply the dualistic essence of human existence, but he also suggests that people’s “dark side” is actually their “true side”. In fact, such “dark side” often derives out of people’s commitment to what is being commonly perceived as representing “good”.

The validity of this idea is also being illustrated in Faulkner’s story, as well – the reason why Emily had killed Homer Barron and had slept with his corpse as “husband” for over twenty years afterwards, is because she was overly committed to the concept of “married life” as such that only suits a “righteous woman”. It is not a secret that, even though Jesus had taught his disciples that they would be much more likely to be accepted in the “kingdom of heaven” if they had cut off their genitals and remained unmarried for the rest of their lives, Protestant Christianity, which still remains a dominant religion in America’s South, suggests something entirely different – only the people who lead socially productive lives are worthy of God’s love. In other words, it was namely Emily’s willingness to live up to the notions of religious morality, which prompted her to act as the embodiment of evilness. The grotesque subtleties of such idea are self-evident. In his article “A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner”, Justin Daniel Davis points out at Faulkner’s story apparent grotesque as the indication that it belongs to what author defines as the “genre of Southern Gothic”: “Miss Emily refuses to acknowledge his (Barron’s) death, and is eventually forced to come to terms with his demise through the reality of her neighbors. What ensues afterwards is a disturbing and endearing story of love, spiced with a mixture of murder, charm, insanity, and darkness of the human soul that defines the southern Gothic” (Davis 2007). Emily was not born insane – she became insane by professing her loyalty to the rationality of marriage. This is the reason why readers cannot dismiss her character as mentally inadequate out of hand, which in its turn, would suggest that Emily can hardly be thought of as tragic heroine. Quite contrary to this – the popularity of this Faulkner’s story corresponds to the fact, despite Emily’s apparent insanity; she is being described as representing the very essence of the concept of female virtuousness, as something quite “manly”. In other words, “A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner” prompts readers to consider the possibility of a light deriving out of darkness and other way around, which in its turn, is a characteristic trait of Gothic literature, in general.

The same can also be said about Hawthorne’s story, because it refers to Goodman’s seemingly “evil” psychological anxieties, as quite normal, since they are being experienced by just about everyone in Salem’s Puritan community. Hawthorne perceives the very concept of knowledge through the lenses of Gothic worldview, while actively opposing the positivist outlook on possession of knowledge as such that is closely associated with one’s ability to achieve happiness. According to Hawthorne, the more a particular individual knows, the more he is miserable, simply because the process of accumulation of more and more knowledge is the pathway to the “dark side”. This is the reason why such classical Gothic characters as Count Dracula and Frankenstein have been traditionally presented to reading audience as intellectuals. After having learned a terrible truth about the true colors of his closest friends and associates (including his wife), Goodman could never be the same: “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain” (Hawthorne). In its turn, this corresponds rather well to the popular perception of Gothic characters as such that can never be “reformed”.


The presence of Gothic elements of fiction in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” can be summarized as follows: 1). Both stories promote the idea that it is only something utterly unnatural that can be truly horrifying 2). Both stories imply the absence of clearly defined conceptual difference between the notions of good and evil, which in its turn, adds “horrifyingness” to stories’ overall sounding 3).The reading of both stories prompt people to adopt a “romanticized” outlook on the process of gaining knowledge and on the concept of “social upstanding”, as such that cannot possibly be associated with the notion of happiness, which points out as stories’ Gothic essence 4). Both stories imply the irreversibility of the process of individual turning to a “dark side”, while suggesting that there are no rational reasons to condemn Gothic individuals for their lack of existential positiveness, because such positiveness derives out of darkness itself. 5) Both stories promote the thought that individual’s external appearance cannot provide us with a clue as to the state of his or her soul. 6) Both stories contain subtle implications as to the superficiality of conventional norms of morality, with Faulkner referring to such morality as being deeply counter-productive.

Thus, we can conclude this paper by stressing out both stories’ undeniable affiliation with the genre of Gothic fiction. In its turn, this allows us to suggest that Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” should not only be thought of as such that represent a great literary, but also philosophical value.

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Burton, Ron “The Gothic Other”. 2008. University of Houston – Clear Lake.

Donaldson, Susan. Making a Spectacle: Welty, Faulkner, and Southern Gothic. The Mississippi Quarterly. (50) 4, (1997): 567-84.

Faulkner, William “A Rose for Emily”. [1930] 2005. The Norton Introduction to Literature Website.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel “Young Goodman Brown”. [1835] 2007. The Literature Network.

Jamil, Selina. Carnivalesque Freedom in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”. The Explicator. (65) 3, (2007): 143-5.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 9). Gothic in “A Rose for Emily” and “Young Goodman Brown”.

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"Gothic in “A Rose for Emily” and “Young Goodman Brown”." StudyCorgi, 9 Nov. 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Gothic in “A Rose for Emily” and “Young Goodman Brown”." November 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Gothic in “A Rose for Emily” and “Young Goodman Brown”." November 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Gothic in “A Rose for Emily” and “Young Goodman Brown”'. 9 November.

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