What Is a Gothic Element?

Elements of gothic literature include romance, a castle or manor house, the potential of the supernatural, an unlikely hero, a sinister villain and isolation. Gothic elements work together to create a setting showing a fallen world, one where traditional elements, such as a castle that would evoke thoughts of power and success, are used to demonstrate the opposite and appear in a form of decay or ruin.

The point of gothic literature is to fill the human need to be afraid, but in such a way that the person is in no immediate physical danger, such as receiving a vicarious thrill from reading a book rather than walking into a reportedly haunted house. Gothic elements are used in novels to create a feeling of dread and mystery, highlighting the sensational. Common manifestations of gothic elements in literature include dark stairwells that ascend or descend into a dark place, such as a dungeon; failure of a light source; a reluctant hero; and a wanderer, someone who lives in isolation, often as a penance for a fall from grace. The landscape of a gothic novel is usually extreme and isolated. Common landscapes include a crumbling castle at the top of a cliff, a lonely road or somewhere in the woods without neighbors for several miles.