Week 8: American Gothic

For this week, I want to introduce America’s first two professional authors, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe, and the unique style of writing they employed, which can be labeled American Romantic, or American gothic.

American Romanticism can be defined as an interest in the self, emotion (or intuition) over reason, Nature, and an exploration of the unknown. Accordingly, the gothic tales of Irving and Poe often involve circumstances of mystery and/or horror, an atmosphere (setting) of gloom, as well as supernatural elements including mysterious figures (ravens, black cats, ghosts) and dreamlike reveries. 

I also want you to review the elements of fiction, discussed here. 

As you read the pieces below, think about the traits of the characters, the story-line (plot), the use of language and surprises (irony), any symbols, and especially the effect of the story on the reader (how does it make him/her feel? what does it ask the author to think about?).  Also consider the “meaning” (or underlying theme) of the piece. For all of the stories and poems, also pay close attention to the setting (the time, place, and mood of the story) and its affect on the characters and action.

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

Washington Irving is crucially important to the history of New York (he in fact wrote the first one—in satirical form).  On the Hudson River is a town named after him (Irvington) and a basketball team (the New York Knicks, named after his pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker). His house Sunnyside on the Hudson remains a much visited museum.

Watch this fun, animated video on his life and career. made by Walt Disney.

“Rip Van Winkle” (1819)

Read this famous tale of Rip Van Winkle, who goes into the Catskills mountains one day to escape stress at home.  He meets some curious old sailors (ghosts of Henry Hudson’s men who discovered the region in 1609), drinks ale, and plays nine pins (bowling) with them. Curiously, he wakes up 20 years later (!) and walks back to town having missed the Revolutionary War (1776-1781). His world is utterly changed from the way it was when he left it.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Poe remains one of the world’s most beloved and versatile writers and a key figure in American Romanticism. In “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” (1841), featuring the detective C. Auguste Dupin (think Sherlock Holmes), he invented the detective story. In his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, he wrote the first science fiction novel. He also invented the horror genre that fueled the writings of Stephen King and today’s many horror films.

He led an unusual life, filled with youthful love, romantic yearning, literary ambition, and—unfortunately—alcoholism. His life experiences allowed him to become a master of psychological forces that brood just beneath the surface of our own rational selves. As you read his works, think about how they serve as precursors to Sigmund Freud’s theories on the battle between our rational and irrational impulses (the Id, the Ego, and Superego).

Here is a short biography of his life.

Interestingly, Poe spent his last years in the Bronx in a cottage that remains a museum (and a great place to visit).  Here is a video of his years there.

His most famous poem “The Raven” (1845) was written while he was living in Greenwich Village (1844-1846) and relates the extreme grief a narrator feels upon the death of a beautiful maiden, named “Lenore.”  When a raven comes into his apartment and sits upon a bust of Pallas (Athena who represents wisdom and rationality), he starts asking all kinds of crazy questions hoping for answers about a possible reunification with Lenore. The poem is renowned for its symbolism and repetitive rhyme scheme that mimics the feelings of unending grief.  It’s also important to note that Poe lost his own young wife (Virginia Clemm), soon after writing this poem. He knew she was dying of tuberculosis and had only months to live.

Watch a video version of the poem here:  “The Raven”  (read by Christopher Lee)

Also read this spooky tale (one of many), focusing on the themes of madness and revenge, called “The Black Cat.” and his longer tale “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

This latter story is the basis of a brand new Netflix series that has just started.

Watch Trailer HERE.

Post Assignment: In your post (due Wed. Nov. 1), please let me know which work interested you the most and why (you could choose to comment on the Netflix Usher series if you like). Try to bring in one or more elements of fiction to support your point(s).



  1. Sajeevan

    The work that interested me the most is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” because the tone is very serious and sad. The narrator tells the story about what happened in his life through the first person point of view. He talks about how he was living a happy life in his childhood and loved animals. As he was getting older his character changed became a very serious guy. One time he cut his pet cat’s eye open after the cat made him very angry. In the end, he also kills his wife and hides it inside the wall of his house. But he gets caught by the police and gets arrested. He deserved what he got in the end. The main character is the narrator and he is the antagonist of the story.

  2. Jimmy

    The work that I found most interesting would be “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. “The Raven” is a dark poem about a man who is very sad because he’s lost someone he loves. One night, he hears a tapping sound at his door and opens it, but there’s no one there. He thinks maybe it’s a visitor, so he asks if they have seen his lost love, Lenore. Instead of a person, a big black bird, a raven, flies into his room and perches on a statue. This raven is very mysterious and can talk, but it only says one word, “Nevermore,” over and over again. When the man asks the raven questions like, “Will I ever be happy again?” or “Will I see Lenore in the afterlife?” the raven always answers with “Nevermore.” This makes the man feel even more sad and hopeless because it seems like the raven is telling him that he will never be happy again, and he’ll never see Lenore, the person he lost. The poem shows how deep sadness can make us feel like we’re going a little bit crazy which is why I found it most interesting. It is something that can happen to all of us. When we lose someone we love, and we are most vulnerable, our thoughts can eat us alive.

  3. Roussena Jean Pierre

    Edgar Allan Poe is one of the unmistakable and flexible writer. “The Raven” by Poe is a story sonnet that contains a few components of fiction normally found in writing including; the plot. The sonnet has a reasonable plot, where the storyteller is visited by a secretive raven that over and over expresses “Nevermore.” The plot rotates around the storyteller’s close to home plummet into hopelessness and frenzy as he wrestles with the raven’s dismal presence. Another imaginary component is the Characters. The sonnet highlights two primary characters — the storyteller and the raven. The storyteller is a sadness blasted individual, while the raven takes on a representative job, addressing a courier of death and a wellspring of torture.

    Topic is likewise an imaginary component utilized in the sonnet. Topics in “The Raven” incorporate subjects of pain, misfortune, and the certainty of death. The sonnet investigates the torture of the human mind when confronted with these topics, and it digs into the possibility of ceaseless distress and sadness. These components of fiction in “The Raven” add to the sonnet’s persevering through influence and its capacity to summon compelling profound reactions from the audience. Additionally, Edgar Allan Poe’s works, especially his investigation of the human mind and the hazier parts of human instinct, should be visible as forerunners to some of Sigmund Freud’s hypotheses on the unreasonable driving forces, the id, inner self, and superego. While Poe’s compositions originate before Freud’s psychoanalytic hypotheses, there are a few associations that can be made.

     Poe’s characters oftentimes display imprudent and instinctual ways of behaving, following up on wants and feelings without restriction. Characters in Poe’s works, similar to the storyteller in “The Obvious Heart,” frequently yield to their silly driving forces which mirrors the idea of Id. Likewise, Poe’s characters likewise show a battle with the real world and the outside world as in “The Raven”. This contention between inward longings and outside imperatives mirrors the idea of the “self-image” in Freud’s hypothesis. The inner self attempts to adjust the requests of the id with the requirements of the real world. A portion of Poe’s works, for example, “The Obvious Heart,” grandstand characters tortured by culpability and an ethical soul(BeyondTheDarkness09, 2010). This lines up with Freud’s “superego,” which addresses the incorporated moral norms and upsides of society. The superego can prompt sensations of responsibility and self-discipline when one’s activities disregard these norms.

    I track down Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” especially charming. The sonnet’s investigation of melancholy and the storyteller’s plummet into franticness is a convincing part of Poe’s work. The imagery, similar to the raven and the rehashed rhyme plot, adds a layer of intricacy to the personal unrest depicted in the sonnet. Furthermore, realizing that Poe composed this piece while managing the impending loss of his significant other, Virginia Clemm, makes it much more impactful. It’s a wonderful illustration of how writing can catch and convey profound, crude human feelings. Poe’s capacity to dig into the more obscure parts of the human mind is genuinely captivating.

  4. Mariam Otero

    I would have loved to base my choice on the series because of how the trailer got my attention for several reasons. The trailer for “The Fall of the House of Usher” on Netflix hinted at a captivating blend of crime, mystery, and horror elements, which piqued my interest. The dark and enigmatic atmosphere, the mysterious dynamics, and the use of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary references promised an intriguing narrative.

    However, I also found “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe to be a compelling choice. “The Black Cat” offers a classic and profound exploration of various elements of fiction. The story’s character development, symbolism, atmosphere, and psychological depth provide a rich and thought-provoking narrative. It dives deeply into the human psyche, exploring themes of guilt, moral decay, and the consequences of cruelty. It showcases Poe’s mastery of creating dark and eerie atmospheres and provides a vivid portrayal of the narrator’s transformation from a loving individual to a cruel and morally corrupt one. The symbolism, particularly the use of the black cat evolving from a symbol of love and empathy into a representation of guilt and vengeance adds layers of complexity to the story.

    • Mark Noonan

      Mariam, I hope you do get a chance to see the NetFlix series Usher. Even better, I think, is the new film A Haunting in Venice, also slightly based on the work of Poe.

  5. Mumin Khan

    Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and the works of Edgar Allan Poe represent two distinct facets of American literature from the 19th century. While Poe is renowned for his dark, gothic tales and exploration of the macabre, Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” offers a more whimsical, yet profound exploration of time and change.

    One of the distinguishing factors of “Rip Van Winkle” is its setting in the idyllic Catskill Mountains, which contrasts sharply with the often oppressive and dark settings of Poe’s stories. Irving’s portrayal of nature, the village, and the mountains provide a backdrop of tranquility and change, inviting readers into a world where the passage of time feels both tangible and magical. Poe’s settings, while rich and atmospheric, often evoke feelings of dread and unease, creating a different reader experience.

    “Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” delves into themes of change, tradition, and the passage of time, offering a reflection on the constants and transformations in life. Rip’s 20-year sleep and the subsequent changes in society serve as a metaphor for the inexorable flow of time. Poe’s works, focusing on themes of death, madness, and the supernatural, provide a darker, more introspective thematic exploration. “Rip Van Winkle,” with its focus on societal change and personal transformation, offers a broader, perhaps more uplifting thematic canvas.

    While Edgar Allan Poe’s works offer a captivating dive into the dark and mysterious aspects of human nature and the world, Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” provides a unique and endearing exploration of time, change, and the enduring aspects of life. The idyllic setting, the warmth and depth of Rip’s character, the universal themes, and the rich symbolism combine to create a story that stands out for its ability to engage readers on multiple levels, offering a sense of connection, reflection, and wonder. In these ways, “Rip Van Winkle” holds a unique place in American literature, captivating audiences with its timeless appeal and its gentle, yet profound exploration of the human experience.

  6. Brandon Rios

    In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” draws readers in and holds people’s attention with its skillful use of symbolism. A significant embolism is the orangutan, which stands for the primal and instinctive parts of human nature. Because of their violent behavior, which reflects people’s darker, hidden urges, orangutans are a symbol of the otherworldly and of humans critically. Through the use of this symbolism, Poe delves into the intricacies of the human psyche, engrossing readers in a compelling story that gives a more in-depth examination of the human condition.


  7. Brandon Rios

    Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” draws readers in and holds people’s attention with its skillful use of symbolism. A significant embolism is the orangutan, which stands for the primal and instinctive parts of human nature. Because of their violent behavior, which reflects people’s darker, hidden urges, orangutans are a symbol of the otherworldly and of humans critically. Through the use of this symbolism, Poe delves into the intricacies of the human psyche, engrossing readers in a compelling story that gives a more in-depth examination of the human condition.


  8. Jessica GP

    The Fall of The House of Usher tale was one of my favorites to read this week. Although I don’t read many scary tales or stories I liked reading this one. In the beginning, the narrator focuses on describing the house as bleak, depressing, and isolated, which sets a mood of unease and anticipation. This eerie setting, coupled with the narrator’s vivid depiction of the mansion’s architectural decay and gloomy surroundings, immediately drew me into the world of gothic horror. I find it particularly interesting that the narrator focuses on describing the house because it seems like the house is a reflection of the members of the family’s emotional state which is practically in bad shape. Especially Roderick Usher, appearance, nervous agitation, and intense sensitivity to sensory stimuli exemplify the story’s exploration of psychological disturbance. I think the Netflix series would be worth watching now that I have read this tale because the eerie feeling will be more tangible as the story unfolds. 

    • Mark Noonan

      I’m glad you enjoyed this story masterpiece by Poe, Jessica. I think it’s his best, for some of the reasons you mention. The Netflix series is pretty good but even better is the new film A Haunting in Venice, which has a “House of Usher” feel.

  9. Bai Ngai

    “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe vividly conveys the depths of loneliness and despair. The main character, who always longs for his fallen love, Lenore, to return, is tormented by a continuous tapping at his door. But each time he builds up his courage to open the door, a raven greets him. This raven always chants “nevermore” and then takes off. Throughout the story, the man has several uncomfortable encounters with the raven, which slowly undermine his mental stability. His desperation to know if he will ever see Lenore again in the afterlife leads to him questioning the raven. Again the raven replies with “nevermore” a depressing reminder of his suffering.

    The continuous pattern of hopeful expectation met with the raven’s sarcastic response perfectly captures the overall tone of “The Raven.” It highlights the toll that a cycle like this can have on one’s mental health and reflects the man’s grief. It’s a depressing example of how anyone might eventually give in to the overwhelming weight of loneliness and sadness.

  10. Akeria

    The work that I had found to be most interesting was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”. It really interested me because the narrator is actually connecting and telling his life story to his readers to get to know his background better. The narrator talks about his love for animals and how they bring comfort. I really found it interesting how he talks about his love for animals and how he had a natural goodness of soul which led him to have so much love for animals. I do find it a little disturbing how he had cut open his cat’s eye. To add on, another thing I found interesting was how the narrator described how the love of animals speaks directly to the heart of the man who has learned experience how uncertain and changeable is the love of other men. I found this interesting because it goes to show how animals can contribute on reducing loneliness

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent original commentary on this curious tale, Akeria.

  11. Glory Omoruyi

    From all the works mentioned, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” interests me the most. Poe’s ability to established depths into human’s emotion, particularly grief and the irrational thoughts can be provoking but can also be haunting and intriguing. “The Raven” is a masterpiece in creating a sense of sadness and frightening atmosphere, and it’s symbolism and repetitive rhyme scheme effectively convey the narrator’s descent into madness. “The Raven” captivates me because it serves as a psychological exploration of how grief can affect one’s state of mind. The narrator’s desperation and desire for answers and his reunion with Lenore mirrored the complexities of human psychology, therefore symbolizing the relentless and unsettling nature of grief. Besides, the personal context of Poe’s own grief come from the loss of his wife, Virginia Clemm, and that added a layer of depth to the poem. The knowledge that he wrote this poem while facing his wife’s impending death makes it even more touching and profound. Poe’s work in “The Raven” illustrate the power of literature in delving into the human psyche, exploring the human mind and emotions by psychologists like Sigmund Freud. The poem’s dark and mysterious atmosphere, coupled with its exploration of irrational thoughts and emotions, makes it a timeless and captivating piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

  12. Nia

    Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

    A poem that appeals to me the most is “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. The repeated refrain “Nevermore” emphasizes the narrator’s descent into madness and creates a hypnotic quality. Grief and loss is a universal theme, and many people can identify with the narrator’s intense emotions. A raven’s mysterious nature, associated with death and the supernatural, further adds to the intrigue. Poe’s exploration of the human psyche, the supernatural, and the power of language contributes to the enduring fascination with “The Raven.” Despite its emotional depth, linguistic brilliance, and exploration of universal themes, it remains a literary work that resonates with the audience. While the poem doesn’t have a detailed physical setting, it establishes a strong emotional and psychological setting. The dark and gloomy atmosphere enhances the sense of mystery and sets the tone for the narrator’s internal struggles.

    A dreary night is portrayed as a dreary experience for the narrator when he encounters a mysterious raven. In the story, the unnamed narrator grapples with intense emotions of grief and despair as he grieves the loss of his love, Lenore, as well as his descent into madness after interacting with the enigmatic bird. As a symbol of the narrator’s tortured psyche, the raven itself serves as a harbinger of doom. The central conflict is internal, as the narrator battles with his own emotions and haunting memories of Lenore. With the arrival of the raven, this conflict is intensified, making it a source of both fascination and torment for the narrator. Symbolism plays a significant role in “The Raven.” Ravens symbolize death and mourning, as well as the narrator’s descent into madness. The refrain “Nevermore” symbolizes the narrator’s inability to find closure or comfort. The theme of grief and loss is prominent. In the poem, the narrator explores the profound impact death has on the human psyche by delving into human emotion. The supernatural theme also adds a sense of mystery and Gothic intrigue. Poe’s choice of language and rhythm contributes to the overall tone, creating a haunting and unsettling ambiance. The tone is melancholic and ominous, mirroring the narrator’s emotional state. The repetition of certain words, as well as the rhythmic structure, contribute to the poem’s hypnotic quality. Poe’s style is rich with vivid language, creating a sensory experience for the reader.

  13. Sarah Munassar

    I found myself reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” without stopping since I enjoy horror movies/stories, and even though it was a bit gory, I found myself enjoying every bit of it, especially since it was short, which is what kept me reading. The narrator is not okay and needs assistance. What made him believe that because he is angry, he has the right to kill anything that gets in his way? Not once or twice, but three times. I’m curious as to why he exposed himself to the officers. Would he have confessed if the cops hadn’t arrived? Why did he take the other cat if he was aware of his condition? He slaughtered them with ease and with no remorse. There are so many questions running through my head. Another thing I loved about him was his storytelling style; he gets to the point quickly, but you’re reading it while shaking your head, knowing he’ll do something stupid again. If this were ever made into a movie, I would definitely watch it on Halloween.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent original commentary on this curious tale, Sarah. I do think it would make a terrific film.

  14. Fiama

    The work that interested me was Edgar Allan Poe. In the black cat, the main character is the cat, and I found it interesting because many people believe that black cats are bad luck. Many cultures find that black cats symbolize bad luck and are used as sacrifices. I think the story had irony because, at the end of the story, the black cat was the reason his dead wife’s body was found. But also, the story shows the side where people domesticate animals and then leave them on their own to survive. This was important to the stories because animals like cats and dogs mainly depend on humans to survive. But in today’s world, many people abandon their pets when they no longer feel the need to have them. It’s important to mention the abuse many pets endure from their owners, which was a big theme in this story. The cat only wanted to be loved and cared for, and the story shows that the cat was very confused by the actions of his owner. I found the Raven interesting because it had the same writing style and tone as the black cat. Interestingly, the Raven is a major character in the story because the raven symbolizes death, and people believe that if you see one, it announces the death of someone close to you. Losing a loved one was driving him mad and the raven was the symbol of his mourning and how he couldn’t accept the death of his loved one.

  15. Carolyn

    “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe is quite interesting, It’s got this odd, unsettling vibe that really sticks with you. The story follows this guy who starts off pretty normal but then dives deep into alcoholism and madness. He’s got a pet cat, Pluto, who he absolutely adores, at least initially. But as he falls further into his vices, he becomes violent, horribly mutilating the cat and eventually killing it. The whole plot is like a downward spiral into darkness, which is classic Poe. It’s not just the actions that are chilling, but the way Poe describes them. The language is so vivid and intense, it’s like you’re right there, watching this horror show unfold.

    And then the symbolism. The black cat itself is like a symbol of the narrator’s guilt and madness. After he kills Pluto, another black cat appears, which freaks him out. It’s like his guilt is haunting him, literally. Poe throws in some serious irony, too. He thinks he’s being clever, covering up his crimes, but it’s the wailing of the second cat that leads the police right to his wife’s hidden body. When reading this it’s like a mix of horror, pity, and disbelief. It’s not just a scary story; it makes you think about how guilt can eat away at a person, how someone can seemingly change so drastically, and how one’s own actions can lead to their downfall. The setting, all gloomy and ominous, just adds to the whole macabre atmosphere, making you feel as if you’re in some kind of dark, twisted world where anything could go horribly wrong at any moment.

    • Mark Noonan

      Wonderful original analysis of this truly tantalizing work Carolyn!

  16. Rujin Chen

    Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving

    The main fictional element is the concept of Rip falling asleep for twenty years and awakening in a dramatically changed world. This element serves as the central premise of the story, allowing Irving to explore themes of time, change, and the passage of generations. Additionally, the inclusion of supernatural elements, such as the mysterious figures on the mountain and Rip’s encounter with them, add a fantastical element to the third-person narrative. It’s a truly classic of American literature at all time.

    The narrator in “Rip Van Winkle” is omniscient, shows all the thoughts and emotion of all characters, especially Rip Van Winkle himself and provide insight into the events and characters of the story from a broader perspective.

    Rip is characterized as a good-natured, easygoing man who is liked by his neighbors but often finds himself in trouble due to his tendency to avoid work. His wife, Dame Van Winkle, is portrayed as a domineering and cantankerous figure. Their dynamic is an example of the generational conflict that the story explores as well as Rip’s desire for freedom from responsibility, which is the motivating factor in Rip’s decision to venture into the mountains, where he encounter the supernatural events that lead ti his twenty-year slumber. But when Rip returns from his long sleep and discovers that his wife has passed away, which further emphasizes the theme of change and passage of time. However, the marriage is portrayed as a complex and sometimes contentious relationship. “Marriage occurs at the place where your path of love ends.”

    • Mark Noonan

      Rujin, I’m so glad you focused on this wonderful tale. It’s both supernatural as you say but also says a lot about relationships as you point out.

  17. Waleed Yahya

    Edgar Allan Poe wrote a creepy poem called “The Raven.” It’s about a person that’s sad because someone they love died. They were sitting in a dark room at midnight. Then a black raven comes and sits on a statue. The person talks to the bird hoping it can comfort him. But the raven just keeps saying “Nevermore” which makes the person even sadder. The poem makes you feel how heartbroken and confused the person is. It’s kind of like a ghost story and it’s very emotional.

    In Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle” a guy named Rip goes to the mountains to get away from his problems. When he went he met some weird people who turned out to be ghosts from a long time ago. They gave him a drink, and he fell asleep. He woke up and went back home. Then he realized a lot of time has passed and everything is different. It’s like he traveled through time. The story is mysterious and a little spooky. 

    I found this poem and story interesting because I’m into scary spooky things and horror movies. Both stories are scary stories for Halloween. One is a sad poem, and the other is a story about a man who travels through time without knowing anything about it. It makes you curious about what happens next

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent original commentary, Waleed, on these unusual, spooky works.

  18. Carolina

    My favorite readings were from Edgar Allen Poe. One of my favorite was “The Black Cat.” Poe sets the tone as dark and suspenseful which is why it’s so interesting for me to keep reading. The main character which is in a first-person point of view admits to committing a horrible act which helps contribute to the dark tone. An element of fiction Poe uses is irony. The main character says that he loves animals and has many in his home that he shared with his wife. The main character eventually ends up an alcoholic and in a deteriorating mental state and this leads him to hating the cat cat and eventually killing it. Poe uses foreshadowing in his short story as well. When the second cat appears, it looks like the one the character has killed. This was like the past coming to haunt him. In the end the character had said that it was revenge from what he had done to the cat. This was my favorite reading for the elements Poe uses. I like the dark tone and the way he uses irony and foreshadowing in his story.

  19. Christina Bethelmy

    The symbolism in “The Black Cat” narrative by Edgar Allen Poe is the piece that I find most intriguing. The primary focus of the story, the narrator in “The Black Cat” is sentenced to death, but he only has one story to tell. The irony is that he had no idea how his life would alter. He begins by telling how joyful his upbringing was and how much he adored his pets. A black cat inherently represents immorality and Poe’s statement that when he sees a black cat, he feels rage gives the reader the impression that the black cat in Poe’s short story even represents evil.

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