Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House”: The Musical Gothic Mansion

By: Elli Batchelor

As an avid listener of darkwave and goth rock, I immediately knew upon hearing the prompt I wanted to explore Gothicism in music. Siouxsie and the Banshees, the British post-punk band formed in 1976 by Siouxsie Sioux, largely influenced the Gothic subculture and is considered one of the founders of the genre, alongside others like The Cure and Bauhaus. While goth music has expanded and developed since Siouxsie and the Banshees’ reign, and their own music is more accurately categorized into other genres, their earlier work’s dark overtones pushed boundaries and set the scene for future artists. Siouxsie Sioux to return to stage for first time in 10 years | Dazed

“Happy House”, from their 1980 album Kaleidoscope, is not one of those overly dark and mysterious songs that cemented their public association with the gothic. I mean, the song has “happy” in the title, how could it possibly be gothic? While it might not be the most gruesome and depressing song to exist, there are plenty of Gothic elements to be found in both its lyrics and its sound. Siouxsie has a very distinct, unique voice and this song layers her vocals, as well as echoes, to create an eerie auditory atmosphere. Her voice, combined with the loud and haunting instrumentation, creates lots of texture for a relatively simple song. Even if you are unfamiliar with the original, the guitar riff has been sampled repeatedly by popular artists, including Mindless Self Indulgence and The Weeknd. The hypnotic instrumental is arguably more iconic than the song as a whole. 

If the riff establishes the atmosphere, then the lyrics bring it full circle to a Gothic work. “Happy House” is riddled with irony and sarcasm. The frequently repeated refrain goes:


This is the happy house 

We’re happy here in the happy house 


The egregious overuse of the word “happy”, along with the disconcerting manner in which it is sung, implies the opposite of what is being said. There are many variations of this one basic line and each one gets a little darker, and perhaps more obviously sardonic. Another variation in the first verse goes: 


We’ve come to scream in the happy house 

We’re in a dream in the happy house

We’re all quite sane-ane-ane, whoa-oh 


The not-so-happy house in question can be interpreted as an asylum, which fits in with the Gothic’s fascination with psychology and mental illness. The people in the house are also exclusive and isolated, as indicated by the emphasis on the “we versus them” mentality. Another popular interpretation, supported by a 1982 Elektron interview with Siouxsie Sioux, is that it is a cynical critique of society and how we present ourselves. She says, “It is sarcastic. In a way, like television, all the media, it is like adverts, the perfect family whereas it is more common that husbands beat their wives. There are mental families really but the projection is everyone smiling, blond hair, sunshine, eating butter without being fat, and everyone perfect.” Other lyrics that more explicitly support this interpretation are: 


We’re happy here in the happy house 

To forget ourselves and pretend all’s well 

There is no hell, oh-oh 


This exploration of disillusionment and man’s moral imperfection truly makes “Happy House” a Gothic text. The song’s lyrics are a commentary on society’s hypocrisy and falseness, which are themes heavily associated with the Gothic. It addresses the human nature to hide the darkest parts of ourselves, just without mentioning death, gore, or supernatural elements. 

The very idea of a house representing a larger social phenomenon, and a place for darkness to hide inside, is thematically Gothic in itself. Listening closely to this song instantly reminds me of all of the houses we have looked at in class. I could easily draw comparisons to every house we have discussed but one very obvious connection is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The novel’s title alone could work as a line in this song, if perhaps it was called “Happy Castle” instead. Jackson’s Gothic house is practically sentient and provides a haven for the Blackwoods, as they isolate themselves from greater society. I could imagine this as a theme song for Merricat, although with less sarcasm given her peculiar perspective. She protects both the house and her sister, wanting to keep all of them away from the world. She truly believes the Blackwood residence is the happy house and they are all happy there, even as her routine and structure (and eventually even the house) crumble all around her. The house, in both texts, is a place to hide parts of yourself, whether it’s the act of poisoning your family or the example of domestic abuse Sioux gives. 

That being said, the last two lines of the song bring a slightly creepier edge to the previous social commentary. In a soft tone, Sioux ends the song with: 


I’m looking through your window, ooh-ooh 

I’m looking through your window, hmm, hmm 


While the happy house and its members seem to be super isolated throughout the song, the final lines see the singer venture outside of this metaphorical house and break the boundary with the listener. It serves as a warning that the listener is susceptible to the dangerous charm of the imaginary happy house. If the listener is being false and postering for others, the singer will see right through it- like the window of a house.


Siouxsie and the Banshees - Happy House | The Pink Snout

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Gothicism in Lana Del Ray: “Hollywood Sadcore”

Written by Emma Langevin


Usmar, P. (2014). Born To Die: Lana Del Rey, Beauty Queen or Gothic Princess?. M/C Journal, 17(4). 


Lana Del Rey’s style of lyrics illustrates common themes of Gothicism. I analyzed gothism’s role in our present day music, and more specifically, one of pop culture’s most famous and talented artists: Lana Del Rey. She is a 37-year-old American singer/songwriter and is best known for her album “Born to Die”. Personally, I enjoy a lot of her songs; she has a beautiful voice, and her songs are very different from other artists we normally hear today. She has a lot of passion in her voice and can get dark with her lyrics. Some of her song titles include Summertime Sadness, Born to Die, Sad Girl, Pretty When You Cry, Dark Paradise, and Ultraviolence. Her aesthetic is considered “Hollywood Sadcore”, but the gothic themes are sprinkled all throughout her lyrics. 

Gothicism has become widespread in popular culture and continues to influence films, fashion, and songs. Lana Del Rey has created a very unique profile for herself, and the road she has taken is quite different compared to other artists right now. Del Ray’s songs contain a lot of uncontrolled passion, violent emotions, and obsession. Her big hair and elegant fashion portray the American dream, and as Usmar states, she has her “beauty queen style” as she says in her song Summertime Sadness

There is a note of a gothic theme right within that song title: Summertime Sadness. We normally associate summertime with warmth and happiness, but to Lana Del Rey there is nothing to be happy about during that season. In Usmar’s article, he analyzes her lyrics and states that she depicts an excess of hedonistic consumption and love that knows no bounds, not even death. He states that Gothic in Pop Gothic cultural representation can become “post-race, post-sexuality, post-gender”. Usmar says that Lana Del Rey falls into the category of postmodernism, but the use of Gothic mode goes outside political debates and blurs clear lines of feminist discourse. He states that she also comments on consumerism, the emptiness of capitalist society, and a suicidal expression of hopelessness, which are undermined as she demonstrates conformity to subservient gender roles and her ambiguously ironic need to be “young and beautiful”. 

The question that Usmar poses is whether or not Lana Del Rey is a Beauty Queen or a Gothic Princess. Ultimately, he comes to the conclusion that she is both. He states that Del Rey’s use of the Gothic is shown as otherness, darkness, and death. Usmar explains that it correlates to heteronormative gender representations, female body image, and how the male gaze plays a role in our society.

Death and loss are huge themes in gothic literature, so almost all the texts we read this semester could correlate to the themes from Lana Del Rey’s songs. I ultimately decided to compare it to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. I noticed there was a similarity between Lana Del Rey and Madeleine Usher. They have very similar features in the pictures attached; dark hair, fair skin, and sad facial expressions. With Lana Del Rey’s dramatic, passionate lyrics, she portrays the same qualities as Madeleine Usher. Del Rey’s album is called “Born to Die”, which in Madeleine Usher’s case, she was born to die with her Catalepsy. 

Dark metaphors are used throughout Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. In “The Fall of the House of Usher”, dark romanticism is a very prominent theme. This theme includes mystery, horror, and madness. In Lana Del Rey’s song Dark Paradise, her lyrics express “Your soul is haunting me and telling me that everything is fine. But I wish I was dead (dead, like you)”. These are very dark and passionate lyrics, which can correlate to the love between Madeleine Usher and her twin brother Rodrick Usher. They both have diseases of hypo and hyper sensitivity that ultimately causes them to die. But the part that ties into Del Rey’s lyrics is the love that the twins have for each other. They love each other so much that they must die together. The only difference would be that Del Rey talks about a love interest in her song, but they still both come down to loving a person so much you would rather die than be without them. 

From the research I did on Lana Del Rey’s aesthetic and Usmar’s article, I found that Del Rey’s music is much more gothic than I expected. Her elegant voice mixed with her dark lyrics makes for the perfect 21st century twist on our present day definition of Gothicism.  



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Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth; a gothic tale by Kaitlyn Roemer

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth follows Batman as he ventures into the madhouse after his rogues gallery escape. Throughout this issue we see the darkest portrayal of Batman thus far with him questioning his identity and eventually his humanity. Reading on we discover the founder of Arkham’s dark past, and his ties to Batman in a psychologically haunting reveal.

This comic title is actually taken from a Phillip Larkin poem; “Church Going”.
“A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round”.

This poem takes an extremely dismissive and even antagonistic look at religion. This reminded me of Young Goodman Brown which also dives into religion. In this we see Goodman Brown slowly lose his faith in humanity and eventually die alone.  Relating this to the comic, we see Batman wonder if he is truly different from those he puts in the asylum, eventually giving up and having the inmates decide his fate. This theme of questioned reality and wavering faith is gothic to its core. Gothic-ism is all about challenging mainstream beliefs and norms. This comic questions the very staples of Batman mythos; is justice real? can Batman ‘clean’ up Gotham? and finally what differentiates Batman from his rogues?

We’ll be going through the plot in more detail now to better understand how gothic elements are woven into the comic itself. Batman is forced to meet with his foil, the Joker, who’s taken over Arkham Asylum. I want to quickly emphasize how this comic frames Batman and Joker as opposites of the same coin. Both are obsessed with their utopian society and strive to shape the world in accordance. They highlight the classic man vs nature dichotomy; with the Joker just wanting nature to run wild, a personification of chaos while Batman emphasizes justice and order. Continuing on Batman further explores the Asylum, seeing how broken and mentally ill his villains actually are, taking the supernatural element out and showing a gritty perspective. The climax occurs when Cavendish, the Asylum administrator, accuses Batman of ‘feeding the evil’ by continuing the cycle of violence. This story itself is steeped in gothic influence, from the questioned morals of medicine to the cycle of violence affecting every character.

Another way this comic flexes its gothic roots is the art style. This is what initially drew me to this comic in particular. From the visceral, rushed strokes of violence to the key moments left in the dark for the viewers to visualize.  I’ll attach some of my favorite moments depicted, but I highly recommend skimming the whole comic! I’d warn potential readers to look up trigger and content warnings however as this is an extremely dark story line. One instance of this could be when Amadeus Arkham ( the previous administrator) finds his wife and child brutalized and murdered by a former patient of his. While this is beyond horrifying and forces the reader to see this man in an empathetic light it also doesn’t glorify the violence. A key part of gothic media to me is the unknown, a lack of substantial answers, forcing the reader to put their own biases into the story. Much like in Young Goodman Brown, where the reader is left to decide if the occult village is real or not.

While you might not expect Batman to cover these nuanced gothic themes, it actually has a history of pushing boundaries within its characters. A quote from Grant Morrison, a writer from this comic said in an interview; “The repressed, armored, uncertain and sexually frozen man in Arkham Asylum was intended as a critique of the ’80s interpretation of Batman as violent, driven, and borderline psychopathic.” (Morrison, Grant. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth 15th Anniversary Edition (DC Comics, 2005). And throughout Batman comics there have been hints at Batman’s trauma impacting his view of justice, plus the Joker’s unrequited feelings which were deconstructed in this comic. This deconstruction all finalizes where at the end, Batman has lost his footing and leaves his sanity up to Two Face; if a coin lands scar side up batman will stay in Arkham Asylum for the rest of his life and go free if it lands clear. The coin ends up landing scar side up but Two Face remarks “Who cares for you?” and leaves the reader wondering if ignoring the result was the right thing to do, as even Batman is questioning his morals.

This comic is undeniably gothic, from its art style and aesthetic to the gritty haunting story line. Readers can clearly see the influence from the recurring quotes from Lewis Carroll, to the Jungian archetypes I couldn’t mention due to the complexity in that issue alone! This comic uses symbolic gothic elements like the moon, shadows, violence and duality to showcase how nuanced the Batman mythos can be. I’d highly recommend this comic just for its distinct art style and to see gothic elements in a unique genre.

Kaitlyn Roemer, English 370, 4/24/23

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Playboi Carti: Whole Lotta Red

by Declan Bohner

Jordan Carter, better known by his stage name Playboi Carti’s long-awaited third album, Whole Lotta Red, presents a distinct departure from his previous music collection. Carti’s once electronic sound found on his last two albums has been morphed into a fusion of punk, classical, and hip hop to present a new form of Playboi Carti. Littered throughout the album are such hits as Stop Breathing, Teen X, and Sky. These songs specifically showcase a more braggadocious Playboi Carti. Featuring lyrics such as:

I told my boy, “Go roll like ten blunts for me” 

I told my boy, “Go roll like ten blunts for me”

I’m tryna get high ’til I can’t feel nothin’ 

I’m tryna get high ’til I can’t feel nothin’

While these lyrics find themselves fully invested in a rather hedonistic lifestyle, there is an underlying theme of regret or trauma.

Familiar with controversy, Playboi Carti has been embroiled in legal issues throughout most of his career, notably for his 2023 alleged assault of his pregnant girlfriend and his 2018 assault on a limo driver. Growing up in the neighborhood of Riverdale in Atlanta, Playboi Carti was around drugs and violence throughout most of his life. This environment soon cultivated Carti into a young member of the gang, the Bloods, by the time he was in high school. 

A product of his environment, Playboi Carti, who once had dreams of becoming an NBA star, was involved in crime that would take the lives of many of his friends and even his brother: 

Ever since my brother died

Ever since my brother died 

I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout homicide 

I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout homicide 

While this lyricism is direct and not concerning itself with metaphor, it still paints a pungent picture of the feelings he has towards his brother’s murder. Coupled with his own violent tendencies and the trauma of his childhood, the lyric, “I’m tryna get high ’til I can’t feel nothin’” shapes itself from a hedonistic want into a traumatized need. Playboi Carti is running from his past.

Playboi Carti while known as gothic for his clothing and setpieces finds himself ironically gothic due to the haunting of his past. Throughout the album, Whole Lotta Red, there is a distinct transition from Carti’s hedonism into his longing for love and to be accepted despite his wrongdoings. 

The album starts out with the line:

Never too much 

Never too much 

Never too much 

Never too much

A repeated lyric relishing in the current excess of Playboi Carti’s success. Nothing is ever too much whether it be money, drugs, or woman. At first, it seems like Carti has once again created an album in which he relinquishes emotional vulnerability in order to promote his own brand of self. Despite this, as the album continues there are distinct departures from the lush life Carti tries to present for himself:

I only want the best for you 

I cure your love like a doctor

Tell me what you want me to do 

Tell me what you want me to do 

I can wear a business suit and speak proper

Playboi Carti hopes to escape his past of abuse in order to find love, but much like most gothic texts, his past perpetually haunts him and attempts to prevent him from escaping what he has done. Much like in Sanctuary, Popeye and Playboi Carti are similar in many ways. Both Carti and Popeye were raised in traumatic environments which plagued them
with a moral compass that was skewed. While Popeye’s crime is certainly worse than Carti’s, there is still a central theme of violence against women. The main distinction I would make however is that there is a strong reason to believe that Carti regrets his violence and has made attempts to better himself for the people around him. This can be found on Carti’s song, ILoveUIHateU:

I mix all of my problems and Prometh’ until I roll on my death bed 

Don’t get close, uh, baby, don’t get too close 

Don’t get close, yea

In this we can see Carti’s regrets showing themselves through drug use and his own want to push away those he feels he might hurt. His own want to run away from his past and live a life full of pleasure is one that intertwines quite well with the gothic. 

Throughout his album, Whole Lotta Red, Playboi Carti transcends his lavish lifestyle to explore his past and the trauma that affects him and molded him into the man he is today.

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Preacher’s Daughter by Ethel Cain

Preacher’s Daughter: a Southern Gothic story  

by Lara Odell

Artist Ethel Cain released her album Preacher’s Daughter in May of 2022. The collection of 13 songs tells a haunting story of a small town Preacher’s daughter’s relationship with her childhood, her escape from her small town, and her eventual murder. 

The narrative album introduces the main character, Ethel, and how her family treasured Christian values. The song “Family Tree (Intro)” begins with a muffled sermon playing overtop suspenseful chords. The lyrics allude to a loss of connection to the faith she was raised in and, subsequently, her family. The artist describes this separation from her upbringing with violent language, which culminates in the last three lines, “Swinging by my neck from the family tree/He’ll laugh and say, “You know I/ raised you better than this”/ Then leave me hanging so they/ all can laugh at me.” 

Track 2, “American Teenager,” is one of this album’s most popular songs because it does not stray away from the mundane and sometimes morbid realities of a suburban American upbringing– it is also really catchy. These references manifest in memorable lines that resonate with listeners and succinctly verbalize the horrors of American promises, like prosperity, the American dream, and the military. For example, “Grew up under yellow light on/ the street…The neighbor’s brother came home in a box/ But he wanted to go so maybe it was his fault/ Another red heart taken by the American dream.” 

“A House in Nebraska” reminisces on young love in a small town between Ethel and a former lover. She pulls on Southern gothic imagery of an abandoned house that sheltered this love she treasures in memories. In Track 4, “Western Nights,” Ethel and a new, anonymous partner leave her small hometown. The song reveals that the relationship is abusive, but the narrator’s passive attitude towards the abuse is concerning. The abuse itself and Ethel’s emotions towards the abuse add to the gothic nature of the album. The narrator conveys a dying devotion to her abusive partner. Slowly, the main character’s autonomy begins to dwindle. 

In “Family Tree,” Ethel recognizes a loss of a version of herself, possibly the person she was during childhood. The lyrics allude to abuse at the hands of Ethel’s father, the preacher, and past sins of Ethel’s. She repeats throughout the song, “These cross all over my body/ remind me of who I used to be/ And Christ, forgive these bones I’ve been hiding/ Oh, and the bones I’m about to leave, yeah.” Even as she physically and otherwise distances herself from her familial roots, the effects of her abusively religious childhood follow her. “Hard Times,” track six, further enforces the cycle of abuse that Ethel experiences from her dad and then her romantic partner. The song opens with “Hide me there, under the leaves/ Nine going on eighteen, lay it on me/ Tell me a story about how it ends/ Where you’re still the good guy.” Further, Ethel relays a childhood memory where she was “dancing right there in the grass/ I was too young to notice/ That some types of love could be bad.” This song is one of my favorite tracks in the album, although I think it is one of the saddest as well. You can hear the fatigue from cyclical abuse in Ethel’s voice and in her words. And yet, the following track, “Thoroughfare,” romanticizes this anonymous partner. The contrast between these two tracks reflects the contradictory emotions that often occur in abusive relationships. 

“Gibson Girl” continues the story about Ethel and her “partner,” although at this point, her partner is more of a tormentor. She reckons with being forced into sex work by her captor. This song reveals a lot about how Ethel’s abusive upbringing molded her views sex and love. 

The song is ridden with religious guilt, apparent in lines like these; “Says he’s in love with my body that why he’s fucking it up/ And then he says to me “Baby, if it feels good, then it can’t be bad”/ Where I can be immoral in a stranger’s lap.”

“Ptolemaea,” the most unsettling track of the album, begins with an eerie monologue by a male voice over instrumental that sounds familiar to flies buzzing. The song has vocals from both Ethel Cain and a male vocalist. It is the essence of violence, portraying how abuse affected Ethel’s connections of violence and love, ultimately ending in her death. “Ptolomea” is the point in the narrative where Ethel’s captor murders her. Halfway through the track, Ethel repeats “stop,” and the song hinges when she piercingly screams out “stop,” assumingly to the male voice who is also on the track. What follows that scream is Ethel softly singing, “I am the face of love’s rage,” implying that Ethel’s death is the result of abusive romantic connection, sexual abuse, and religious guilt. The song ends with the male voice repeating a prayer-like monologue that hints towards a religious justification for Ethel’s murder. 

The story of Ethel closely mirrors that of Temple Drake. Both stories grapple with gender dynamics, sexual abuse, kidnapping, abusive romance, parental abuse, and religious guilt and take place in small Southern towns. However, Preacher’s Daughter is from the perspective of the victim, Ethel Cain. She tells her story, and although her autonomy wavers, she is ultimately in charge of the way her story is told. Preacher’s Daughter also examines the effects of religious guilt and religious upbringing in much more detail than Sanctuary.   


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Fun Home: Gothic Tragicomedy

by Brooke Dimarzio

One work of fiction that I have read recently for my Young Adult Fiction class was Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. At first read, I did not immediately notice the connections to gothic literature in this graphic novel. I have this class immediately after Dr. Peeples, and one day while reading it hit me all at once how “gothic” this novel actually is. Fun Home closely connects with “gothic” aesthetic because of the way the past perpetually haunts the present moment for the main characters. Fun Home is an autobiographical graphic novel that allows the author to become the artificer of her own life and share her truth. This directly contrasted with her father, Bruce, who uses art to conceal and repress his truth. Fun Home’s Alison Bechdel narrates the discovery of her sexuality while being entwined with her father’s suppressed past. After Bruce commits suicide, Alison comes to terms with her father’s suppressed homosexuality. The story unfolds the conflicting and cross-sectional desires between father and daughter—Alison is in many ways jealous of her father’s “wasted” masculinity. On the other hand, Bruce projects is innermost desires onto his daughter by forcing her to dress femininely as a child. The story is centered around death, family trauma, and repressed identity. Not to mention, Bruce is the director of his family’s funeral home, “Fun Home”—directly facing death on a weekly basis.

One specific element in the story that solidifies this gothic interpretation is the home that the family lives in. Bechdel’s childhood home—a gothic revival house, was a center point of the narrative for multiple chapters. Allison’s father, Bruce, painstakingly pours his suppressed identity into the details of the home through decoration. The ornate decorations of the home in many ways represent his repressed gender expression and sexuality. Allison Bechdel repeatedly suggests how her father’s control over the house becomes symbolic of his artificial life. You can see how Bechdel presents this through her illustrations.

The house in Fun Home is inherently gothic (not just because it is literally a gothic revival home, but also symbolically) because the suppression of secrets and corruption comes through the family home. Although Bruce’s life was dedicated to repressing his sexuality, we see how the truth eventually comes to the surface in a way that haunts the protagonist. After Bruce dies, Alison is left to process not only her father’s repressed truth but must come to terms with her own sexuality. All of this happens within the walls of this house.

One cartoon in particular still captures my attention:

Here, we can see Alison and Bruce sitting together in the library of the home. Throughout the narrative, the library is a central room where Bruce interacts with other men he is interested in. Additionally, both Alison and Bruce have a profound love for literature. They communicate and understand each other through metaphor and literary tradition. In the top image, we can see how both Alison and Bruce are sitting together in the same room. They both occupy the same space and exist together but are separate– consumed by their own worlds. Alison sits at the desk writing while Bruce sits in the chair reading. The perspective of the drawing makes it look like they are physically close together in a small space.

Looking at only the bottom image, you might not know that the two were in the same room because of the perspective difference. Alison is sitting at the desk while Bruce seems much more distant since we can only see them through the two windows. Interestingly, Bruce’s face is obstructed by the window frames. On a symbolic level, you can say that he is trapped behind bars. This symbolic element has to be deliberate. Although Alison and Bruce are in the same room, they are emotionally distant from each other because Bruce is trapped by his repressed sexuality. On the other hand, Alison, who is able to come to terms with her own lesbian identity, is unobstructed by the frames of the windowpanes. In these two images, the furnishings of the house and the actual structure of the house serve to represent the way Alison processes her relationship with her father. This method of autobiography through the medium of a graphic novel is inherently gothic.

In some ways, the elements of this story reminded me of Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher.” Although Poe’s depiction of the gothic house is vastly more extreme, they both follow similar principles. In both stories, the houses are symbols of repressed identity and lack of freedom. In “Fall of the House of Usher” the house is a character. In Fun Home, Bechdel personifies her family home often and it deliberately becomes its own character.







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Gargoyles in Gothic Architecture: The Guardians of Notre-Dame Cathedral

Gargoyles in Gothic Architecture: The Guardians of Notre-Dame Cathedral

By Hannah Webster

Notre-Dame Cathedral is located in central Paris, and I’ve had an opportunity to see it several times during family trips to Paris. To me, it’s a beautiful building that reflects the richness of the Gothic architectural tradition in France. Rising on the Ile de la Cité, it symbolizes the strength and durability of the church. In contrast with the majesty and solemnity of the cathedral, the builders added a collection of gargoyles on the rooftops.

The gargoyles of Notre-Dame

One of the most famous grotesques in Notre-Dame is “Le Stryge”, also known as “The Vampire.” This figure, depicting a brooding creature sitting with its chin resting on its hand, appears to be observing the city of Paris below. Le Stryge’s positioning reinforces its ties to human nature and the age-old struggle between good and evil.

These gargoyles are strange-looking figures that keep a watchful eye over Paris. Gargoyles have typically been used by architects as fanciful waterspouts, but the three gargoyles that I chose as examples have no architectural function. They seem to have been added to convey a message to the faithful, although their high location on rooftops makes them difficult to see. 

One winged gargoyle looks at Paris with a bored look, his head resting on his chin. Another wingless gargoyle looks expectantly at the city, ready to pounce like an eagle that has identified a prey. The third gargoyle is hungrily devouring a whole rabbit or small dog. In these three examples, we can see the three stages of a gargoyle’s routine: waiting, hunting and feeding. The gargoyles have scary and mean-looking heads that remind me of images of dragons or devils. They have sharp eyes, pointy ears and oversized jaws, similar to a deformed human face. One gargoyle has wings, suggesting that he may be one of the Devil’s fallen angels. Two of them have horns, like the Devil. All three of them have human bodies with powerful hands. 

Gothic architectural tradition in France

Many of these stone creatures are thought to represent the concept of evil, with their monstrous and fearsome appearance serving to ward off negative forces and remind the faithful of the perils of sin. Their presence on the cathedral’s exterior not only enhances its visual appeal but also contributes to the overall Gothic aesthetic, evoking a sense of mystery and otherworldliness.

I’m curious about these statues, as they seem so out of character for a church that typically displays Christian imagery. The gargoyles appear Gothic for several reasons:

  1. They are designed to be grotesque and frightening, as though they had come from another world to haunt humans. Their features suggest a connection with a dark side that we fear and don’t fully understand.
  1. They are part animal and part human, indicating the duality of mankind. We are part of God’s creation, but we can just as well revert to monstrous behavior if we allow ourselves to be tempted by evil forces.  
  1. These aesthetic (non-functional) gargoyles are most likely 19th century additions, when the Cathedral was heavily restored in the 1840’s. They were likely influenced by the Gothic literary tradition that depicted images of humanized monsters who watched over humans and preyed on the weak. These fantastic and evil creatures have been banished to the rooftops of the Cathedral, allowing them to observe and prey upon the moral decay of the Parisian population.

    The Gargoyles appear Gothic

    As guardians of this iconic masterpiece, the gargoyles silently watch over the city of Paris, evoking a sense of wonder and awe in those who admire their intricate craftsmanship. Their elaborate designs and menacing appearance not only contribute to the captivating Gothic aesthetic of the cathedral but also serve to remind us of the power of human imagination and creativity.

What is their purpose? Their meaning is unclear: are they designed to ward off evil spirits who might invade the Cathedral (by using friendly spirits to ward off evil spirits)? Are they designed to warn Christians against sin by showing how the Devil and his agents are ready swoop down to capture lost souls? The gargoyles remind us of several Gothic themes, including a parallel world of ghosts that haunt humans and a sense of inevitable decay of the human mind and body. The gargoyles also challenge our understanding of human identity: with their human bodies and faces; were gargoyles originally humans that evolved into monsters, or were they monsters who became humanized to trick humans? Do they have similar personalities to humans with an understanding of good and evil, or are they only interested in the single-minded pursuit of lost souls? 

I see parallels between the gargoyles of Notre-Dame Cathedral and the characters in “Morella,” the short story published by Edgar Allan Poe in 1835. The story’s narrator tells us of his marriage to Morella, but he cannot define his attraction, which is not based on love or passion: “my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known — but the fires were not of Eros — and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity” (21). The narrator seems to be possessed by a strange force that he cannot comprehend, as though some spirit (like the gargoyle) was tormenting him. 

"Morella" is a short story in the Gothic horror genre by 19th-century American author and critic Edgar Allan Poe.

“Morella” is a short story in the Gothic horror genre by 19th-century American author and critic Edgar Allan Poe.

Morella, the narrator’s wife, is a student of Schelling’s work, in particular “the Principium Individuationis, the notion of that identity which at death is, or is not lost forever” (22). In the story, the transmission of identity happens between mother and child. As Morella dies, her daughter comes to life, although the narrator is reluctant at first to name the child after her mother. If a human identity is not lost forever, can it be reincarnated in a living thing, perhaps even as an anthropomorphic beast? Could the gargoyles be endowed with the identity of fallen Christians (like fallen angels) who must now guard over their former peers? Is their role to find the humans with a weak moral character and to haunt them? 

As Morella’s daughter grows older, she resembles her mother more and more. At her baptism, the narrator is impelled to christen her after her mother’s name, hastening his daughter’s death. The narrator asks himself: “What prompted me then to disturb the memory of the buried dead? What demon urged me to breathe that sound, (…)? What fiend spoke from the recesses of my soul (…)?” (25). The narrator speaks of demons and fiends. These are words traditionally associated with the Devil and his agents. Could they be the same type of fiendish spirit as the gargoyles on the rooftops of Notre-Dame Cathedral? We see them observing the lives of humans in the streets of Paris, ready to pounce and to feed on the weak spirits. Poe’s short story suggests that these mysterious and frightening spirits can lead us to take actions that are clearly damaging to our souls and our loved ones. The foundational framework of Gothic literature is the notion that dark spirits (that we can’t see or understand) push us to engage in behaviors that are damaging to our souls. The gargoyles of Notre-Dame are a perfect illustration of this Gothic darkness.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Morella.” Selected Tales, edited by David Van Leer, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, NY, 2008, pp. 21–25.

I do not make a distinction between gargoyles and grotesques in my blog. For the purpose of the blog post, I use the word gargoyle to discuss the characteristic of Gothic architecture to which I refer, specifically the 54 grotesques, stone statues that adorn the upper gallery between Notre-Dame’s two towers.
Some sources do make a distinction between gargoyles and grotesques. Many of the decorative figures, which do not serve a functional role in water drainage, are called “grotesques” or “chimeras.” These statues, often featuring mythical creatures or human-animal hybrids, are primarily intended for ornamental purposes and contribute to the overall atmosphere of the cathedral.
These statues were sculpted by the workshops of the artist Geoffroy-Dechaume and designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. The shapes of some of them are familiar to us: the pelican (symbol of charity), the bear (symbol of strength), the dragon (symbol of power) or Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the Underworld.  To learn more, visit: Friends of Notre Dame de Paris Website or follow their instagram page!


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Gothicism in “Kate McCannon”

by Kaitlyn Marlin

“Kate McCanon” is a song written by folk-country artist Colter Wall, released in 2017. The song relates the tragic tale of Kate McCannon who is murdered at the hands of her lover after she is caught having an affair. The perspective of the song is told from the point of view of Kate’s lover. He begins by describing a raven outside his prison window, the raven tells the man

“it’s hell to where you go, for you did murder Kate McCannon.”

Thus, establishing early on to audiences what the reason for his imprisonment is and the events that the song is about. He then goes on to describe his relationship with Kate. He says that he knew of Kate from her father who worked with him, once he meets Kate he claims that she is the prettiest girl he had seen: 

“Prettiest girl in the whole damn holler” 

After meeting he courts her and saves up enough money to buy a diamond ring. It is at this point that the song begins to take a turn. He tells listeners that one day after buying the diamond ring, he came home to find that his “darling angel” Kate was not home. So, to go look for her, he returns to the creek where he first saw her and they met.

“I found her with some other lover”

The singer discovers that Kate is having an affair, catching her in the act with her other lover. At this point, the song begins to build, cutting to just instrumentals. The volume increases and listeners hear percussive bass and drumming. Delivering the last lines of the song, the singer yells that he “put three rounds into Kate McCannon.” The instrumental accompaniment is silent during this line, adding to the climax and intensity one feels while listening to this song. Immediately after we hear again the same guitar motif as earlier until the song fades out. 

I’ve been familiar with Colter Wall for a couple years now and while many of his songs could definitely be defined under gothic terms, I believe “Kate McCannon” is one of the most evidently gothic songs he has written. An easy comparison can be made between “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and the raven which speaks to the lover while he is in prison. Both ravens take a personification of being able to communicate with humans, particularly communicating and representing feelings of guilt and mourning towards a lost lover. The first two stanzas of lyrics describe the Raven as having “wings black as sin” and to be “mocking those within” the prison. The wings of the raven represent the sin that has been committed by the singer and the bird’s ability to fly mocks the prisoners for their lack of freedom. One could argue that the raven is a symbol for the devil himself, as he is described as a “wicked bird” and judges that the lover will go to hell for the sin of murder he committed.  

The song also displays a gothic motif of revenge and tragedy, as well as a representation of a gothic relationship. Obviously, Kate and the singer don’t work out. But it is the revenge, fueled by scorn, that the singer takes and the tragic murder of Kate that make their relationship gothic in nature; they did not get a happy ending despite the singer’s infatuation with her.

An additional layer to this song that makes it gothic is the sound of the music itself. Colter Wall has a very deep and raspy voice; perfect for communicating the emotions of this song. In addition to the already sorrowful voice of Wall, the instrumentals of the song could also be described as dark and mournful. While the guitar’s listeners hear in this song do create a very common western/country sound to the music, they also tend to communicate the emotion of the piece through dynamics and timbre. All while the singer is retelling his story of his relationship with Kate, the background music is calm with an undertone of saddeness found within the cords; a direct reflection of the singer’s internal state. However as the song goes on, as previously mentioned, the intensity builds; the volume of the guitars begins to increase and we begin to hear a percussive drumming both of which create intense feelings of suspense as listeners hang onto every word that the singer is telling. Then everything cuts out as we hear the last lines of the song, causing the only focus to be made on the singer’s words and the sin he committed. 

Overall, this song is perfect for examining gothic elements in music. In addition to the lyrical gothic aspects, which can be analyzed in a similar way as our literature and films were, it also is a great display of the gothic within music and how the gothic is communicated through music. It is a song that many students in our gothic class will be able to quickly grasp and understand in terms of the gothic. 

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The Unlikely Gothic: Kid Cudi’s “Ghost!”

by Olivia Howe

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a party or social gathering without hearing a song by Kid Cudi. Whether it’s his 2009 song “Pursuit of Happiness” or his 2010 “Mr. Rager,” I’ve been hearing his music since early high school. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I decided to venture beyond his mainstream collection and take a listen to the rest of his discography.

Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, more commonly known by his stage name Kid Cudi, popularly releases music in what google describes as an “alternative hip-hop rock neo-psychedelia trip hop category”… A much simpler way to put it might be hip-hop/rap, but I suppose music is dynamic and cannot (or rather should not) be limited to specific genre conventions.

With that being said, after listening to nearly all of his songs, I believe Cudi truly does deserve a greater degree of recognition for his ability to transform a plethora of complex emotions and topics into enjoyable music.

In his 2010 album Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, Cudi chose to transcend his previous album’s club-like quality by exploring a more eerie (and almost supernatural) type of feeling in each song. It relies on dark and emotional lyrics that touch on themes of depression, isolation, and detachment – a rather gothic aesthetic. It is said to be the vehicle through which he chose to explore his past with addiction and alcoholism that led to conflicts within his familial and personal relationships.

While the whole album could be dissected as an example of a modern Gothic text, one song stood out to me in particular. Sitting at number sixteen out of eighteen, Cudi’s “Ghost!” reads much like a confession performed by a lonely individual.

The song begins with him stating his legal name, giving the impression that what follows will be about his genuine self and not his alter egos like Kid Cudi or Mr. Rager. The first verse then begins with an act of realization. He seems to be evaluating his life as an addict and where that led him:

Gotta get it through my thick head

I was so close to being dead, yeah

Life, live it, with nobody’s help tips

Man, I’m just walking without being led

At the end of the same verse, he similarly reaches an ultimatum – life has an end, and he seems to be transitioning into a liminal space:

The beginning is always followed by an end

In the in-between time I/m not runnin’ or hidin’

In the pre-chorus, Cudi is in a state of reflection. He understands that even after recognizing our past mistakes and coming to terms with the idea that everything will work out in the end, some of those experiences still come back to haunt us, like a ghost:

See things do come around

And make sense eventually

Things do come around

But some things still trouble me

Perhaps the most obvious Gothic connection can be found in the chorus when he finally identifies and questions his existence as a ghost. With the folklore notion of ghost being understood as someone who is unseen or unknown, Cudi is expressing his isolation. His mind, much like a ghost, is scary, sad, and unseen:

But I wanna know one thing

When did I become a ghost?

Im so confused about the world I live in

You think that I’m lonely, well I probably am

Throughout the entire song, Cudi seems to be becoming more and more aware of his inability to remedy the past. As a result, he feels misguided and misunderstood – something he has had to come to terms with:

Tried to fight it, but soon that gave in

Went down a road with no lights on

Cant describe it, and you don’t move like them

You become their worst nightmare

Despite drawing an unlikely comparison to the Gothic, Cudi’s song contains many of the elements necessary to be categorized as such. With themes of depression, loneliness, detachment, and isolation, “Ghost!” can effectively be read as a Gothic text. It reminds me much of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Spirits of the Dead” in which Poe illustrates a transitional space between life and death. It is here that individuals investigate the mystery of death and reflect on their memories before departing from one realm to the next. Much like the soul described in Poe’s text, Cudi seems to be occupying (or perhaps is trapped within) this liminal zone.

Morbidity aside, I truly enjoy Cudi’s song. It may not be played at any party I go to, but it deserves no less appreciation. The students in this American Gothic course would hopefully agree due to our advantage of recognizing such beautifully unsettling texts and themes.

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Dark Forests of the Gothic Mind

by Kayla Meyers

The Cure, an English rock band that formed in 1978, were well-known throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s for their distinctive and original music style consisting of a combination of punk, pop, and gothic rock components. The Cure presented dark tales in several of their songs that were unlike anything else people were likely to hear at the time. One of their most well-known tracks, “A Forest,” is a staple of the gothic rock subgenre. In 1980, The Cure released the single, which was eventually featured on their album Seventeen Seconds. “A Forest,” which had a minimalistic arrangement and a haunting atmosphere, represented a change from the band’s previous, more punk-influenced sound. Despite having an unusual sound, “A Forest” was a financial success that peaked at number 40 in the UK charts and helped The Cure become one of the most forward-thinking and significant bands of the post-punk era. The song has become a fan favorite and a mainstay of The Cure’s live performances due to its eerie feeling and mysterious lyrics.

“A Forest” has a strong gothic atmosphere because of the instruments and production. Gothic rock music is characterized by a distinctive bassline, delay, and reverb effects that give the guitar a spacious, ethereal feel. The bassline is the song’s motivating factor and lends urgency and energy to it by creating an effective unsettling ambiance. The guitarwork in “A Forest” offers a haunting quality and creates a sense of tension and intensity with each strum. As the song progresses, it remains dark and somber which contributes to its gothic aesthetic and offers a feeling of mystery.

Lyrically, “A Forest” portrays the tale of a person who is lost and alone as they journey through a forest. The lyrics describe a narrator wandering through a dark forest, searching for something that he cannot name. The lyrics incorporate a depressing and lonely feeling by centering around a character who is lost and alone meandering aimlessly in a foreboding, dark forest. The protagonist’s journey is shown as a metaphor for their inner difficulties throughout the song. They are looking for something but are unsure of what. The lyrics engender a feeling of tension and discomfort. The poetic and introspective lyrics portray a sense of helplessness and solitude that many members of the gothic subculture identify with. The song’s overall tone is heightened by the haunting aura that the forest’s imagery creates. Darker, contemplative themes in music have long appealed to the gothic subculture, and “A Forest” is the ideal illustration of this.

Despite their different mediums and contexts, The Cure’s “A Forest” and Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance,” both contain elements of darkness, mystery, and the supernatural. The scenery of “Circumstance” and the lyrics of “A Forest” both convey the discomfort and tension of typical gothic art with hints of seclusion and reflection. The lyrics of the well-known song depict a lonely individual traveling through a gloomy forest and convey a sense of anxiety that is comparable to the protagonist in “Circumstance.”

Spofford’s short story illustrates a woman who finds herself traveling through a haunting forest to return home after tending to a sick neighbor. While on her journey, she is caught by a panther, or an Indian Devil, and lifted into a tree. Spofford illustrates the peril and danger of uninhibited land with the legend of the Indian Devil. The woman must sing to the beast and pacify it with songs of civilization and the Church in order to survive the onslaught. The only aspect of civilization the woman encompasses to protect herself is music. She is capable of “taming” the Indian Devil and take away its wild, deadly character by singing.

Both works convey a sense of restlessness and mystery by highlighting a forest and the mysteries that take place inside of them. A forest is a place where the unknown lurks and where danger may be hiding around every tree or bush. In gothic literature and art, forests are frequently employed as a metaphor for the human psyche, signifying the intricacy and darkness of the human mind. The human mind may be a complicated and gloomy place, in comparison to a forest that is a place of unknown mysteries and hidden dangers. In both the song and the short story, the forest is viewed as a metaphor for the characters’ inner selves, with the perils and mysteries they experience there serving as a mirror to the intricacies and darkness of their own thoughts. Although being distinct works, both make use of the woodland environment to suggest unease and mystery.

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