Gothicism in Poe’s and Irving’s Short Stories

Gothicism is a literary genre that focuses on supernatural themes. The literary genre became popular in medieval times when literature themes started changing from enlightenment and romanticism. Some of the common traits of Gothicism include the genre’s focus on mystery, emphasis on terror, lack of realism, and focus on subconscious acts and dreams. Most of the texts that feature Gothicism have storylines that are characterized by death, gloom, high emotions, and individuality. Gothicism has been a notable literary style since the 1700s. Consequently, several authors have utilized Gothicism in a bid to tell their story. Examples of two Gothic texts that have been covered in class include “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving. These two stories feature notable aspects of Gothicism in their themes and presentation. This essay tracks and explains the Gothic elements in the two selected texts.

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In the case of “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the author is Edgar Allan Poe, who is renowned for utilizing gothic elements in most of his works. Poe stands out through his preference for dark themes in his works, including death, evil, and crime. The author has notably embraced Gothicism in his plots, themes, and styles. In “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the atmosphere of the story is terrifying, the plot is dark, and the events revolve around the psychological breakdown of the main character. The other story in this analysis is “Rip Van Winkle”, one of the most popular stories in Irving’s “Sketch Book”. Irving’s literary style is mostly dominated by romanticism and regionalism, nevertheless, in “Rip Van Winkle”, the author employs traditional Gothic elements to tell the story of a shepherd who slept, only to wake up in a changing world (Baym and Levine 29). Some of the basic Gothic elements in Irving’s story include the setting, use of symbols, and supernatural occurrences.

Gothicism in “The Fall of the House of Usher” takes several forms, including atmosphere, characterization, horror, and symbols. The gothic atmosphere is a highlight in Poe’s story. Traditionally, the Gothic atmosphere was dominated by ruined medieval structures, mysterious sounds, and unfamiliar pathways. In this case, the atmosphere of the story is diverse, but its main purpose is to create a gloomy theme. Some of the phrases that set the atmosphere of this story include, “white trunks of decayed trees…vacant, eyelike windows…and black and lurid tarn” (Baym and Levine 654). Another evidence of Gothicism in “The Fall of the House of Usher” is the victimization of characters in the story. Some of the characters in Poe’s story are presented in a manner that makes them Gothic, like in the case of Roderick Usher.

Gothicism in “Rip Van Winkle” takes various forms, including the setting of the story, where the author paints the picture of desolate but thriving nature. The absence of human touch in the setting presents a strong gothic element of untamed nature. Supernatural elements are also present in this story. The plot of the story is the most supernatural element in the story beginning with the incident when the main character encounters pipe-playing dwarfs. The fact that the main character sleeps for years at a time is also another Gothic element. Some of the symbols that are used in the story are also Gothic in nature, including the eagle.

Realism is a literary element that seeks to present realistic and factual details. The realism movement in literature dates back to the 19th century as a by-product of burgeoning social movements that sought to represent the actual human conditions without idealization. Realism in works of literature is almost similar to the actual events. The life that is represented in literature through realism appears to be recreated from real life. Realism is the literary approach that juxtaposes its predecessor, idealism. In the course of realism, authors seek to influence readers by presenting pragmatic stories. Some of the most prominent elements of realism include an emphasis on human psychology, well-rounded characters, representational characters, and focus on social morality. This essay will focus on two realist texts, “Life in the Iron Mills” and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. The essay will expound on the realism that is contained in these two works.

“Life on the Iron Mills” is a story by Rebecca Harding Davis, and it is a good example of realism in the early times. The realism in Davis’ story is accompanied by other literary styles such as sentimentalism and the slave narrative. The realism of this story is dependent on the struggles of the main characters, which are too close to the reader’s heart. The other text in this essay is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, and it is authored by Ambrose Bierce. This story has remarkable instances of realism, including its setting, likeable hero, and plot. Consequently, the story is realistic to readers who can easily identify with both its plot and characters.

Realism is manifested in varying degrees in the examined texts. First, the narrator in “Life in the Iron Mills” entices readers to a realistic experience by declaring, “I want to tell you a story” (Baym and Levine 1705). Consequently, there is a personal touch in the story, and this translates to realism. The imagery that accompanies the narration in this story adds to the realism that was suggested in the opening lines. When these two strategies are combined adequately, they end up eliminating the possibility of a third-party narrator. The distinguishing factor in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is the story’s attention to detail. The plot of the story follows the events that transpire during the Civil War.

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Therefore, the events that happen in the story are close to reality. Some of the vivid realism in the story includes the author’s description of the bridge and the setup of the conflict. Furthermore, this is a human morality story that climaxes with the hanging of the main character Peyton. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, realism is also highlighted by the fact that the hero is an ordinary citizen. Before the advent of realism, heroes were restricted to larger-than-life characters who would save the day. The main character is also normalized and humanized in a bid to make the story more realistic. Realism is a literary style that continues to garner relevance in modern settings. In these two stories, the plots have a topic of human morality as their central theme. Davis uses a realistic first-person narrator while Bierce utilizes an ordinary main character to highlight a realistic message.

Work Cited

Baym, Nina, and Robert Levine, editors. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Eighth International Student Edition. WW Norton & Company, 2011.

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"Gothicism in Poe's and Irving's Short Stories." StudyCorgi, 13 May 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Gothicism in Poe's and Irving's Short Stories." May 13, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Gothicism in Poe's and Irving's Short Stories." May 13, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Gothicism in Poe's and Irving's Short Stories'. 13 May.

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