When you think about the word Gothic, you imagine dark, foreboding and mysterious circumstances. In literature, it is all of those things. Dr. Heidi Backes says it is often constructed to tell a tale about the underlying sociopolitical environment or economy.
“A lot of what I focus on is how authors use this Gothic mode, using notions of monstrosity or fear, to illustrate the fact that trauma from the past still haunts us in the present,” she said.
Gothic literature is unique, noted Backes, in that it is not limited by time. It has resurfaced in multiple generations. From tales like Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” all the way to “Twilight,” Gothic literature works through questions about the environment. One common question, she said: What is more frightening – these monsters or reality itself?
“What’s great about teaching Gothic fiction is that it’s one of these areas that most students will have some kind of cultural connection to,” she said. “Pretty much everybody knows what ‘The Walking Dead’ is, or for better or for worse, they’ll know what ‘Twilight’ is. When students have this cultural competency already as part of their upbringing, they know inherently what some of these Gothic monsters or Gothic motifs are. It’s really easy to get them to engage with the text that we’re studying in class.”