• Joyce Carol Oates Revisits the Schoolhouse Gothic

    Sherry Truffin (see profile)
    American Literature, Gothicists, Horror
    American literature, Education, Arts, Gothic
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    education, gothic literature, Gothic
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    The “Schoolhouse Gothic” represents teachers, students, and academic institutions using Gothic tropes such as the monster, the curse, and the trap. Joyce Carol Oates’s 2013 novel The Accursed both exemplifies and deviates from this tradition. Like other Schoolhouse Gothic works, The Accursed portrays the university as a place of mystified power, physical isolation, social stress, and emotional disintegration. Unlike these works, however, school does not leave its primary student-figure, Josiah Slade, permanently damaged, vengeful, and monstrous. Like his literary ancestor Quentin Compson of William Faulkner’s The Sound the Fury and Absalom, Absalom, Josiah neither experiences abuse at the hands of his professors nor victimizes others in retaliation. Comparing Josiah’s story with Quentin’s brings into focus the political and economic implications of the Schoolhouse Gothic. Harvard represents for Quentin an accursed capitalist future of loss and failure that must be avoided, while Princeton represents for Josiah an accursed capitalist past that can be replaced with a more promising socialist future. Quentin’s breakdown is permanent and irrevocable, while Josiah’s enables the development of a new, more ethical consciousness. In Josiah, enlightenment values such as intellectual curiosity, unsentimental objectivity, and faith in human reason—typically monstrous in the Schoolhouse Gothic—are recuperated and redirected, but only after being severed from their customary but accursed educational, political, religious, and economic entanglements.
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    6 years ago
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