Elaine Hartnell-Mottram1
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  • 1 Liverpool Hope University
Poe and the Gothic of the Normal
Thinking ‘Inside the Box’
in Gothic Studies
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If the conventional critique of the Gothic explores the abnormal – the supernatural, taboo and fantastic – it may be said to be a ‘Gothic of the Deviant’. By contrast, the ‘Gothic of the Normal’ underlines anxieties regarding what it means to be normal, to be oppressed by social pressures. It highlights our unease within hegemonic structures as we observe characters ‘reading’ their situations normatively, to the extent that they are unaware of the dangers of the deviant, unable to ‘think outside the box’. Focusing on normative speech within ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, a story that follows a typical Poe structure of thesis followed by demonstration, a disjunction is evident between what is said by Montresor throughout the central narrative and its murderous context. The reader experiences what Leon Festinger calls Cognitive Dissonance – the struggle to hold two contradictory ideas relating to a single phenomenon simultaneously, resulting in a negative emotional state. Such failures of normative world views are apparent in the texts handling of speech interactions. At times either Montresor or Fortunato create a benevolent reality at odds with the actual situation; at others, both protagonists use identical vocabulary but with different conceptual understandings of what they are describing. Fortunato‘s screaming indicates a point where both characters share a reality beyond representative speech. The text is structured by its various verbalizations of ‘normality’, and the tensions between them.

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