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In the 18th century, as the United States began to form its own political and economic system, the nascent country also started to develop its own culture, including its own literature. Distinct from Gothic fiction, American Gothic fiction is a homegrown subgenre set in uniquely American settings (the frontier, suburbia) and characterized by themes that delve into the darker elements of the nation’s culture and history (slavery, environmental devastation).
For this reason, American Gothic literature provides a profound and illuminating means to critique the country’s flaws, whether it be the inhumane militarism that led to the firebombing of Dresden in 1945 as depicted in Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five, the cultural insensitivity and colonial arrogance of the original settlement of the Americas as mirrored in the colonization of Mars in Ray Bradbury's carnivalesque science fiction fantasy The Martian Chronicles, or the brutality of contemporary high school students as represented in Stephen King's award-winning first novel Carrie.
As we read these novels, we’ll discuss the genre and its history, and how it has come to offer a popular forum for critical insight into the American experience that is both conceptually subtle and decidedly intriguing.
Required: Any editions of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, and Stephen King's Carrie.
Patrick O'Donnell was born in Galway, grew up in Dublin, and attended University College, Dublin where his PhD thesis was about the Guthrie Theater. He currently teaches English at Normandale Community College. Additionally, O'Donnell is the Director of Education at Saint Paul's Celtic Junction Arts Center, where he contributes articles and edits its online cultural magazine, The Celtic Junction Arts Review, and teaches classes in Irish literary history, literature, and mythology.