Sherry Truffin deposited ‘Gigantic Paradox, Too … Monstrous for Solution’: Nightmarish Democracy and the Schoolhouse Gothic in “William Wilson” and The Secret History in the group American Literature on Humanities Commons 2 years ago
To review the history of the Gothic as a counter-Enlightenment discourse, albeit an ambivalent one, is to see the suitability, if not the inevitability, of the Gothic treatment of education and educators. Presumably benign institutions, schools may seem more like unfeeling bureaucracies, brainwashing factories, militaristic zones, or lawless waste lands. Ostensibly democratizing, leveling meritocracies that create conditions for social mobility and prepare students for citizenship in an egalitarian nation, American schools nevertheless remain resistant to democracy and often reproduce rather than challenge the existing class structure. They may, therefore, appear frustratingly classless to the elite and forbiddingly or tantalizingly aristocratic to the middle or working classes. Such tensions animate two works of the Schoolhouse Gothic, Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” (1839) and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1991), texts whose protagonists emerge from school damaged and dangerous, texts in which the promise of democratizing education becomes a grimly parodic threat.