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What are some common themes in gothic literature?

Gothic literature emerged as a part of Romanticism (a movement that emphasized subjectivity and depth of individual personalities in the realm of art and literature) in the late 18th century. The genre adopted a distinguished style and focus of writing that set it apart from other ones entirely.

Perhaps the most fruitful consequence of studying gothic literature for students would be the fact that it yields extreme positive results as far as the board exams are concerned (be it the British or American board!). It allows them to develop a deeper knowledge of different elements of the writing methods and devices, that in turn enhances their academic skills required for the purposes of the exam.

Quite a few signature elements of such literature make it what it is and set it apart from all the others:

Horror and Death: 

After a perusal of merely few works in the genre, the reader would find some constant lines along which most themes are based on. The experience of the insidious horrors of life and the encountering of dark demise are some of those themes. 

For instance, in the Macbeth, Lady Macbeth pushes for the brutal murder of Duncan (for which even the description causes goosebumps!) and ends up losing her mind over the guilt. Her heart touching dialogues make the reader experience the horrors and agony that one goes through at the hands of the conscience, she says:

 “My hands are of your colour, but I shame to wear a heart so white,” and repeats that, “...will these hands ne'er be clean”. 

Similar instances are found in quite a few other works as well, for example Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that reveals the horrors of accomplishment and perhaps, uncontrolled scientific advancement.


The settings in gothic literature are usually quite dark, bleak and surrounded by suspicion. The location of the setting is a singular one usually and is replete with terrible and negative happenings that give the message of the impending trouble for the characters. The setting is shown to be physically and metaphorically decaying. It’s interesting how there are so many examples that base the setting along similar lines but still manage to pull it off in an extremely interesting manner. 
Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca would serve as a prime example in this case. The gentleman (Maxim) carries the main protagonist (Rebecca) away to his home that’s not only located far away in a secluded place, but also there take place incessant negative events within the home that signal to the young bride that something is not so right. Similar sense of horror and seclusion, that aids extraordinarily evil practices, prevails in Bam Stoker’s Dracula.


Being born in the romantic period as a genre, it’d be a bit unfair to cut out on this aspect of the story!

Gothic literature has its own distinct type of romance that prevails through it. It’s replete with desperation, need and passion and at the same type is sullied or given a violent touch by the links to the past that are gradually brought to the reader’s knowledge. 

Wuthering Heights and Rebecca would be the most significant examples in this case as they demonstrate the skewed and passionate love stories that possess within themselves some gut-wrenching twists and turns that doesn’t allow the reader to look away even for a second!

There exist quite a few more themes like challenging the very nature of religion, the ideas of good and evil portrayed in a black and white binary sense and the conception of the supernatural powers. All such themes allow the readers to develop their senses to perceive rich literary themes in a much better and efficient manner!

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