Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 July 2020
The collision between Enlightenment and revolutionary Romantic values that produced the Gothic also produced the United States. American Gothic disrupts the dominant American narrative of progress, and reveals what is hidden or omitted by this narrative. It engages the inescapable facts of the emerging nation: the twinned original sins of African enslavement and native American removal, the shifting frontier, the rise of cities and of modern capitalism, poverty, disease and the changing roles of women. The repressed truth that American Gothic exposes is that Americans are not the people they believe themselves to be, either as individuals or as a society. The first significant American novels were Gothic, and the Gothic is central to the works of the Dark Romantics Poe, Hawthorne and Melville, and to the poetry of Dickinson. The importance of Gothicism continued, perhaps surprisingly, in the decades after the Civil War (1861–5), a period often described as the ‘Age of Realism’, and in works of Naturalism by Norris, Robinson, Crane and London. The Gothic, from the beginning, drove technical innovation in American literature, and is responsible for some of its finest works.