ComparingGothic Literature to Transcendentalism

Despitestrongly opposing each other with evident vehemence, Dark Literatureand Transcendentalism do have similarities. Transcendentalismstrongly holds the idea of divinity but rejects the notion of areligion, instead insisting that humans ought to discover themselveswithout having to follow some set rules. This literature claims thatknowledge is a result of imagination and intuition as opposed tofollowing an organized religion. In early 1800, a group comprisingof educators, religious leaders and activists began a movement thatpropagated this approach as literature. Some of the most renownedmembers included Henry D. Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Waldo Emersonand their influence soon spread across many areas of United Statesand abroad. On the other hand, the Gothic Literature seeks theexploration of the supernatural and the mind. The word ‘Gothic’came as a result of fierceness of emotions attached to this kind ofwork. Its history could be traced back in England in the 18thcentury, but it spread to other regions. This is a paper seeking toshow that despite the variance in usage of terms, both of theseliteratures play a pivotal role in shaping humans` lives.


Thefirst difference between Gothic and Transcendentalism is evidenced byhow the two view life. Tom Walker’s decision to have a pact withthe devil in the ‘Thedevil and Tom Walker’proves that more emphasis is put on wealth than the wife. Thestatement “the devil take me if I have made, but a farthing” is aclear indication that greed had seized him (Irving 323). In thisscene, Tom had become a usurer in a bid to take wealth from OldScratch, the devil. Conversely, in the story of Walden, the narratorseems to view life from a rather different angle from Tom’s. Unlikein Tom’s case, the narrator in this story wishes “to live sosturdily, and Spartan-like” (Emerson 374) implying that life is tobe lived with discipline and simplicity.

Gothicis an imagery and allegory-filled literature unlike theTranscendentalism, and this sets the two apart. In the case of TomWalker, some figurative words have been used but the same cannot besaid of the ‘Walden’story. Again, in the ‘Masqueof Red Death’some colors- blue and red to be precise- are used to signify life anddeath (Poe 430). Sharing this observation is Tymieniecka (18) whostated that the reason these two vary is because of the means used todeliver the message. Whereas the two literatures demonstrate somesimilarities the delivery of the message in terms of language anddevices used varies.

Gothicis an endless imagination-filled literature thus contrasting theTranscendentalism which seeks to focus on own understanding of thenature. Whereas the Gothic emphasizes more about gods and devils,Transcendentalism rejects the notion of an organized religion.Instead, it seeks to have more of a discover-approach. This isevident in the Tom walker’s story where there is a conversationwith the devil (Irving 315). Transcendentalism advocates interactionwith nature without having to follow a particular setting (Wilson459).

Fearis evident in Gothic literature, and this could be explained tooriginate from the religious beliefs portrayed. This is clearlydemonstrated when Tom started becoming thoughtful, “Having securedthe good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about thoseof the next” (Irving 324). In comparison, Transcendentalism seemsto take an opposite stand where there is no mention or portrayal offear. Instead, it shows that “the mass of men lead lives of quietdesperation”, (Emerson 374) and this statement fit Tom’ssituation.


Self-relianceis emphasized in the two literatures albeit with a variance in theusage of words, stories and characters. Even though there seems to bemore differences than similarities in these two literatures, bothseem to advocate self-reliance. In the ‘Masqueof Red death’,the people attending the party perished due to seeking refuge atProspero’s house (Poe 434). In the end, all these guests died aftertouching the mysterious figure which coincidentally happened to bethe real RedDeath.Whereas it is not explicitly stated- since this is an allegory- onecould conclude that one of the lessons the author sought to show wasself-reliance. Similarly, Emerson in the story of ‘Self-Reliance’uses very strong language to show the importance of relying ononeself. By absolveyou to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world(Emerson 362), Emerson meant self-reliance was imperative. Earlier,Tom Walker’s abduction and wife’s death occurred as a result ofrelying on an outside force. Eventually, all perished and this seemsto confirm that these two literatures share a similarity in regard toself-reliance.

Speakingown mind and doing that which one feels is right is an additionalsimilarity evident in these literatures but somewhat hidden. Emersonviews a self-reliant man as one who is not held by other beliefs orintimidated by external authorities but rather speaks freely. Anybodywho takes a different route is “timid and apologetic he is nolonger upright” (Emerson 364). This is also seen in the ‘Masqueof Red Death’when Prospero closes the gates to his residence and cares less aboutthe contagion (Poe 430). Whereas one could interpret this is beinginconsiderate given other people were infected, it perfectly fits inEmerson’s claim of reliance.

Tosum it up, it is apparent that differences do exist between these twoliteratures but if and when followed with keenness, they both shapehuman beings’ lives. Firstly, there is the use of differentlanguages in these texts with Transcendentalism choosing to useclearer language than Gothic literature. Then, one is bent onfronting what could be described as self-help ideas versus anotherthat utilizes opportunities around. Tom Walker, after encounteringthe devil, was ready to forfeit his valuables in order to becomericher. In essence, both are showing the various ways humans tend tolive their lives and evidently, they are accurate. In Gothic, thetheme seems to be a pursuit of pleasures at all costs whereasTranscendentalism implies self-discovery coming through independentthinking.


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Emerson,Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” AmericanLiterature.Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell, 2008. 365-366. Print.

Emerson,Ralph Waldo. “Walden.” AmericanLiterature.Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell, 2008. 370-374 Print.

Irving,Washington. “Devil and Tom Walker.” AmericanLiterature.Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell, 2008. 312-324. Print.

Poe,Edgar Allen. “The Masque of the Red Death.” AmericanLiterature.Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell, 2008. 428-434. Print.

Tymieniecka,Anna. TranscendentalismOverturned from Absolute Power of Consciousness until

theForces of Cosmic Architectonics.Dordrecht: Springer, 2011. Print.

Wilson,John B. &quotAn Analogue of Transcendentalism.&quot Journalof the History of Ideas55.2

2011):459. Print.