Discussion Board Assignment

As Maisha L. Wester argues in her book, African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places, a number of contemporary African American authors have employed gothic elements in their literary works to underscore the ways in which slavery still continues to haunt the political and cultural discourses of the United States today. In August Wilson: A Literary Companion, Mary Ellen Snodgrass identifies Wilson as one such author, and she argues that “recurrent motifs of the Gothic mode enliven Wilson’s [plays],” particularly The Piano Lesson, citing macabre terrors (Sutter’s fall down a well), eeriness (the exorcism of Sutter’s ghost with the help of ancestral spirits), and haunted objects (the piano itself) as examples (91).

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Drawing connections to this week’s terms from A Glossary of Literary Terms, explain the legacy of slavery in the lives of the African American characters in The Piano Lesson. How fully do the major characters (e.g. Berniece, Boy Willie, Doaker, etc.) acknowledge slavery’s influence? How does each character try to break free of it? And finally, how do the play’s gothic elements contribute to our understanding of slavery’s lingering power to shape the attitudes and behavior of the characters in The Piano Lesson? Note that you do not need to write about each character, but you should aim to discuss 2-3 of the main characters listed above in relation to these questions.

Your post should be 400-600 words in length, the equivalent of 2-3 double-spaced pages.


Your primary post should include an introduction (链接到外部网站。)链接到外部网站。 that introduces the topic and ends with a clearly worded, 1-2 sentence thesis statement. (链接到外部网站。)链接到外部网站。 Each supporting paragraph (there should be at least 3) should begin with a strong topic sentence (链接到外部网站。)链接到外部网站。 and should incorporate evidence, including direct quotations from the play as needed to support your argument. Direct quotations should be incorporated using the quotation sandwich method (链接到外部网站。)链接到外部网站。 and proper MLA in-text citations (链接到外部网站。)链接到外部网站。. The post should also contain a strong conclusion (链接到外部网站。)链接到外部网站。.

A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms–Week 7 Terms

You are responsible for learning the following terms, which are featured in this week’s play, as well as in some of the stories we have already read. These terms are all located in A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms. 在新窗口中查看

  • Exorcism (pg. 10 of A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms)
  • The Haunted Castle or House (pg. 13 of A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms)
  • Revenant (pg. 22 of A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms)
  • Revenge (pg. 23 of A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms)
  • The Literature of Terror vs. the Literature of Horror (pg. 15 of A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms)

Additional terms:


These are described by Frederick S. Frank as a characterization of supernatural encroachment. In the Gothic, supernatural figures tend to enter the lives of the characters and impinge upon and disturb the order of the natural world. These phantoms are sometimes ancestral and often engage the hero or heroine during a night journey. One famous apparition in the Gothic is the bleeding nun, who appears in Lewis’ “The Monk.” Conforming to Frank’s description, Lewis’ bleeding nun reveals herself during a night journey, and turns out to be one of Agnes’s ancestors.

The Haunting Past

There are a few ways characters in the Gothic are haunted, not by ghosts, but by other remnants of the past. Some examples of these include:

  • The Ancestral Curse: Evil, misfortune, or harm that comes as a response to or retribution for deeds or misdeeds committed against or by one’s ancestor(s). In Walpole’s “Castle of Otranto” all of the supernatural effects are caused by Manfred’s ancestor Alphonso, whose ashes are buried, but whose spirit is vengeful. The bleeding nun narrative in “The Monk” is an ancestor of Don Raymond, who will not rest until he restores her bones to their proper resting place.
  • The “burden of the past,” which, like the ancestral curse, concerns misfortunes and evil befalling one as a result of another’s past actions. However, this particular form is not necessarily restricted to one character and his or her descendants, and usually the actions which have caused the present character’s ill fate occur closer to the present than in the case of the ancestral curse. Such an example exists in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, when the two children are “possessed” by the evil spirits of the dead maid and caretaker.
  • The Pursued Protagonist: Refers to the idea of a pursuing force that relentlessly acts in a severely negative manner on a character. This persecution often implies the notion of some sort of a curse or other form of terminal and utterly unavoidable damnation, a notion that usually suggests a return or “hangover” of traditional religious ideology to chastise the character for some real or imagined wrong against the moral order. This crime and retribution pattern interestingly emerges in the work of many “free-thinkers” and political radicals of the Romantic Age, including such haunted and hounded figures as Godwin’s Caleb Williams, Coleridge’s Mariner, and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, who is both pursued by and in pursuit of his monster. A classic contemporary example of an infamous pursuer/pursued can be found in Anne Rice’s Vampire series. These works typically employ a hero-villain, the vampire, who is both compelled and pursued by a greater force that causes him “to wander the earth in a state of permanent exile, persecuting others as a result of a contradiction of being which is itself the mark of his own persecution by another.”
  • Week 7 Readings from The Norton Introduction to Literature

    1. “Elements of Drama” by Kelly Mays (231-242)
    2. “Drama: Reading, Responding, Writing” (243-274)
    3. The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (275-351)