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The Creeping Terror: An Ecogothic Examination of the Haunted Houses, Women, and Plants of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Shirley Jackson
Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)
Type of Culminating Activity
Thesis - Boise State University Access Only
Master of Arts in English Literature
Thomas Hillard, Ph.D.
Jacqueline O’Connor, Ph.D.
Tara Penry, Ph.D.
Haunted houses in gothic literature are associated with fear, anxiety, and an unsettled past. Plants on the haunted house properties are often seen as symbols to project or perhaps represent that fear and anxiety, but ecocriticism, which addresses the relationship between plants and literature, has rarely pushed further than such an analysis. My work in this thesis engages with the ecogothic, a rather recent critical development in literary scholarship. The ecogothic looks at representations of nature in gothic literature and attempts to understand the full scope of nature’s purpose within any given text, be it gothic or having gothic elements. In the haunted house narratives of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Giant Wistaria,” and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, plants play a fundamental role. In these specific narratives, plants represent and sometimes even aid women in confronting societal and patriarchal norms that may oppress them. For instance, in The House of the Seven Gables, women are described in terms of their similarities to plants, and they are also remembered by an entire community because of when and how they bloom. In “The Giant Wistaria,” a massive vine rips pieces of a house out of its foundation so that a dead woman’s story can be told. Finally, in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, it is knowledge of plants that helps the narrator to protect her home and place in it. In each of these narratives plants play a variety of significant, and sometimes overlooked, roles. They represent voiceless women, silenced by patriarchal societies centuries prior. In certain instances, plants help create a sanctuary space for progress to occur, something that likely wouldn’t happen without them. Plants also serve as weapons, and then later as protectors of women demanding independence to live as they see fit, as in the case of Jackson’s novel. An ecogothic examination of these particular gothic stories helps to broaden a conversation on the importance of plants within a text, specifically the ways in which plants aid and protect women in haunted house stories.
DuPree, Summer M., "The Creeping Terror: An Ecogothic Examination of the Haunted Houses, Women, and Plants of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Shirley Jackson" (2017). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 1287.