Black Characters in Gothic Fiction

Traditional gothic fiction is characterized by an atmosphere of mystery and terror caused by the unknown with strong themes of repression, paranormal, melodrama and an emphasis on setting which often features religious dualities of good and evil (morality and immorality). The genre being named after the architectural movement: cathedrals, castles and monasteries which are imagined to be laden with somber corners, underground passages, secret rooms and trap doors represent inner turmoil coming from the main and surrounding characters. A large part of the gothic focuses on the return of the settings’ hidden past (sometimes a buried family secret or an unspoken history) as well as the taboo (sexuality, abortion, murder – especially matricide/patricide – violation of religious beliefs…etc). This could be done through omens or foreboding atmosphere. Would the genre be shaped or redefined if it was given an African diasporan framework, and featured black characters? Could Octavia Butler, Toni Morison, Maryse Condé and Aimé Césaire be described as authors of gothic novels? Or would their narratives redefine the genre? Perhaps they might even create something new entirely…

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