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“Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson


According to Harris, the gothic genre involves mysteries, horrific scenes, death, and other features that generate fear among the readers (par 1). The style establishes uncertainties in the settings and plots of stories. In most of the gothic genres, death is inevitable. In fact, most of the characters face death-threatening situations that create unending suspense and predictions of disasters. The style was popular in most western writings that focused on superstitious events, beings, and cultures. The culture used castles, caves and abandoned places to develop a sense of mystery. Despite the genre’s association with these structures, it has been used in contemporary settings with emphasis on themes and synopsis. The research focuses on the reflection of the gothic genre in the novella Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project written by Shelley Jackson.

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The project focuses on the process of publishing Jackson’s 2095-word story using tattoos on volunteers’ skins. According to Koning, the author realized that the application of the human skin as a permanent publishing medium for her story would be a unique venture (par 2). Tattooing is one of the popular cultural practices that leave permanent inscriptions on the human body. In fact, the use of tattoos has been overlooked because of their uniqueness and suitability to individual interests and tastes. However, the author decided to incorporate the diversified human interests by creating an uncertain and incomplete story that would be shared by over 2000 individuals.

She asked volunteers to offer their skin as the publishing mediums for the story. In her first request, over 10,000 volunteers confirmed their willingness to participate. Jackson selected the volunteers randomly and assigned words from the story to those who qualified. However, the author decided to conceal the complete story to the public until the last word was published. She made sure that the story was revealed only to the volunteers. Flanagan and Booth stated, “if they accepted, they must sign a contract,” which is supposed to conceal the contents of the story (293).

The gothic concept

The story is characterized by multiple uncertainties of the content and sustainability. According to Wend, Jackson realized that the human skin was delicate and constrained within the mortal capacities and the human lifespan (3). In fact, the process of assigning words to the applicants is random and unstructured. According to Keep, uncertainties generate fear of something unknown (42). In fact, Howells argued that there were always social consequences and predictable disasters in gothic fictions (23). The author focused on the influence of terrifying circumstances in human judgments and emotional stability. Although humans are social and adaptive beings, uncertainties create barriers to cognitive adaptation.

In the project, only the approved volunteers are acquainted with Jackson’s story. In fact, they promised not to reveal the story’s plot to the public. However, the volunteers are aware of their limited lifespan that can affect the sustainability of the story. According to Koning, some of the volunteers asked whether they could include their words in their wills (par 7). The request was a desperate attempt to prolong the sustainability of the novella because it had uncertain lifespan due to the death of the volunteers. The sample tattoos presented on Jackson’s website comprise an ambiguous arrangement of words that do not make comprehensible flow or meaning. In fact, the plot of the original story cannot be reconstructed from the tattoos.

The author predicts that the story will die with the volunteers. One of the gothic characteristics is predictable death. Robinson analyzed the project and stated, “those to be tattooed will die with the story” (43). The words of the story depend on the lives of the volunteers for sustainability. The situation creates a sense of despair among the readers. In fact, Walker argued that Jackson’s plot might only be available after her death (98). The author predicts major changes to the story as the volunteers succumb to death. Whereas the story is established on a strong synopsis, the author does not reveal it to the public. The concealed meaning of the story creates a haunted atmosphere because everybody is left guessing about the possible outcomes. Additionally, the volunteers do not know when they will die. The original story line will be affected if some of the volunteers start dying before the last word is tattooed. In fact, the author expects the death of the volunteers to create different storylines, some of which would make different expectations from predicted when drafting the story.

The story focuses on separating body parts and later rejoining them to merge the words into the expected storyline. The tattooing exercise represents a separation of body parts. According to Koning, volunteers are not supposed to tattoo the words of body parts in their respective organs (par 7). For example, the word ‘hand’ is not supposed to be tattooed on the volunteers’ hand. The specifications create uncertainties and fear among the volunteers. Although the author reported a high application rate, only a few would be selected. In the tattooing process, the volunteers’ bodies would be used as publication materials for the story. Additionally, the volunteers do not have control over their choice of words. Whereas every word is important in the story, the random distribution is expected to affect the flow of the story. In fact, the author already has control over the outcomes of the tattooing process because she assigns words according to the volunteers’ requests.

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As Regnauld states, Jackson’s work represents one of the few uncertain stories that will be defined by the readers’ reactions (76). The readers’ unawareness of the author’s contents makes them dependent on the volunteers’ prediction of their lifespan. The author claims that the ‘words’ from Jackson’s story might never be revealed if the volunteers decide to concentrate on preserving their story. The secrecy and strict selection process from the author create uncertainties. Additionally, it establishes predictable risk measures among all the volunteers.

The separation of the human body derives the intrinsic concepts of the anatomy (Wend 4). The author perceives the human body as a divisible structure that draws its synergy from the cooperation and diversity of social structures. Whereas the author intends to explore the richness of the human skin, the capabilities of the tattoos to establish sustainable publication mediums make her explore the new literary dimension. In fact, the research demonstrates the possibilities of representing the story after a cohesive interaction with volunteers. Whereas the selection process is random, the research illustrates possibilities of merging the words of the story to develop a realistic plot.

Counter argument

According to Keep, Jackson’s novella focused on a romanticism genre that portrayed the beauties of the human bodies by concentrating on the anatomical science (41). The author focused on the beauty of exposing the attributes and features of the human body. Glavanakova stated, “The body is at the intersection of nature and culture, of the individual and society” (1). The research focused on the beauty of merging the aesthetic attributes of the human body to create a universal representation of the inner beauty. Additionally, the author focused on the process of merging different body parts to construct a whole system. Jackson’s choice of selecting different volunteers to participate in body paints using the words of the story was meant to enhance cohesion and integration among different communities. In fact, the response from the first volunteering program demonstrated the willingness to connect with other humans. The romanticism genre focuses on improving the relationships between individuals through shared interests. Although the genre was used in some of the traditional literary themes, it had been adopted in contemporary studies.

Emphasis on the gothic genre

The romanticism genre cannot be accepted because it fails to establish the uncertainties, fear, death, and terrifying themes required in the gothic materials. Whereas the argument of social integration is possible through the merging body parts, the theme does not create the uncertainties expected in the gothic setting. The separations of the words create improbability of sustainability of the story. In fact, all the volunteers are doomed to die with the story. The predictions create fear among the readers, who are uncertain of the story’s contents because it has not been revealed to them. The author expects the readers to get different perceptions of the story based on the survival rate of the volunteers. When the death rate of the volunteers is high, readers will expect the story to change very fast.

Additionally, the story’s plot will be reflected on the remaining volunteers. The story affects the readers’ emotional and psychological preparedness. Whereas the story is meant to portray the relevance of the human skin in publishing literary contents, the limited lifespan of the human participants creates an atmosphere of death. Everybody is deemed to die and face the consequences of mortality. Dreadful evaluates the decay in Jackson’s project and stated, “So death is an inevitable function of the creative process” (11). Additionally, the author is not certain about the story’s future because the publishing materials are easily degradable. Every person who is involved in the story is skeptical about the future and the appropriate contents of the story. The author, reader, and volunteer are not aware of the story’s ending. In fact, the novella still holds the name as the project to demonstrate its continuity.


The gothic genre represents various uncertainties that create fear and suspense. In the story, Jackson focused on the separation of ideas by splitting the human body into different tattooed organs to complete the story. Additionally, the author expected the death of the volunteers to affect the plot, setting, and intentions of the story. In fact, the author focused on the consequences of the volunteers’ death to define the direction of the story. The story is incomplete without the death of the participants. The horrible fate of the volunteers will give the story a gothic theme. Additionally, the separation of body parts in the compilation of the story mutilates the human body into multiple parts that are to be tattooed for the completion of the story. The story’s fate lies with the lives of the volunteers. Their deaths will establish a new storyline that is unpredictable by the author and readers.

Works Cited

Dreadful, Jilly. “The Cyborg in the Basement Manifesto, or, A Frankenstein of One’s Own: How I Stopped Hunting for Cyborgs and Created the Slightly Irregular Definition of Cyborgean Forms of Storytelling.” A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology 3 (2013): 1-16. Print.

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Flanagan, Mary, and Austin Booth. Re: skin. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. Print.

Glavanakova, Alexandra. “Stitching the Body and Self: Shelley Jackson’s Half Life.” St. Kliment Ohriski (2014): 1-9. Print.

Harris, Robert. Elements of the gothic novel. 2013. Web.

Howells, Coral. Love, mystery and misery: Feeling in gothic fiction. London: A&C Black, 2014. Print.

Keep, Christopher. “Growing Intimate With Monsters: Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and the Gothic Nature of Hypertext.” Romanticism on the Net (2006): 41-42. Print.

Koning Kim. Story: Pen. 2014. Web.

Regnauld, Arnaud. “Interrupting D: Patchwork Girl’s Syncopated Body.” Revue française d’études américaines 3 (2010): 72-83. Print.

Robinson, Martin. “A story to dye for.” Australian Bookseller & Publisher, 83. 7 (2004): 43-45. Print.

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Walker, Jill. “Distributed Narrative: Telling Stories Across Networks.” Internet Research Annual: Selected Papers from the Association of Internet Researchers Conferences. Ed. Mia Consalvo and Kate O’Riordan. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2005. 91-101. Print.

Wend, William 2011, The Gaping Garments of Electronic Literature. PDF file.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 2). “Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson.

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"“Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson." StudyCorgi, 2 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "“Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson." October 2, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "“Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson." October 2, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson." October 2, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“Skin: Ineradicable Stain Project” by Shelley Jackson'. 2 October.

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