Gothic Literature Essay Example: Comparison


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A Comparative Analysis: As I Lay Dying and Death Is Hard Work

Gothic Literature Essay: Introduction

William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying tells the death story of Addie Bundren, who is extremely ill and she wants to be buried in her hometown. This story's setting is South US, in the era of reconstruction. Our other novel, Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, is set in post-war Syria, telling the story of a rebel leader Abdel Latif stating his last wishes that he wants to be buried beside his sister Layla. Gothic fiction is a genre with certain qualities founded by Horace Wolpole. In both works, we can see explicit gothic messages. In this paper, we will explain both works and indicate gothic tropes of them. In the second part, we will compare these two books in terms of gothic fiction. The difference between these books' settings does not prevent them from employing the same tropes of Gothic literature. As I Lay Dying presents elements such as mortality and existence. Death Is Hard Work displays stress and violence. As I Lay Dying and Death is Hard Work can be seen as two books that use nearly the same writing techniques and gothic messages while being set in two completely different geographical locations and historical periods.

Body Paragraphs

Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is the story of matriarch Addie Bundren who lives in a war-damaged South US; she is in extremely bad condition, expected to die. Her last wish is to be buried in her hometown, Jefferson, Mississippi. The novel involves 15 different narrators and doesn't have a determined protagonist. It is separated into 59 sections. While the main event is Addie Bundren's death, the book includes more messages and events throughout. The genre of Faulkner's work is recognized as "Southern Gothic", which is a genre identified with him. This genre usually explains the tradition and issues of the Southern US, such as poverty, slavery, patriarchy. It includes irrational thoughts, desires, grotesque characters (Bjerre, 2017, para.1).

Therefore, in As I Lay Dying, it is possible to see a set of gothic tropes—dead narrator, burning buildings, dark weather and so forth. As a perfect example of Southern Gothic, the grotesque is preferred to explain the South's dishonourable tradition of slavery, patriarchy and racism. The story also includes oppressed female characters and repressive male characters (Actis, 2020). Faulkner continually uses this setting to state Southerner's misery. For example, Dewey Dell tries to get an abortion for her unwanted pregnancy; however, as an oppressed woman in the South, the doctor's response was: Get married.

However, the most prominent gothic trope of the novel is mortality and existence. Starting with the title, the author acknowledges that "I" could die. When "I" lay in my bed. After Addie's death, her body rotted for three days by her son preparing her coffin. After the trip to Jefferson started, they weren't thinking about Addie; they struggled to achieve their goal. Later, Darl states about death as; "It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end." (Faulkner, 1930, p.28). He discovers the understanding of death. Also, Annie's husband says about the body of Annie, " With that family burying-ground in Jefferson and them of her blood waiting for her there." (Faulkner, 1930, p.16). He almost says as Annie is still alive, or her family is actively waiting for her.

Another scene where we can see this dichotomy of life and death is the parts where Dewey Dell wished her unwanted child to be dead while they were carrying her mother's dead body. She correlates birth with the dead, as she believes the child will destroy her life. Plus, Addie's youngest son Vardaman believes she is still alive because her body is still there, and he digs a hole in the coffin for her to breathe. Everybody learns something about death throughout the story.

Secondly, Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa is set in post-war Syria, a rebel leader Abdel Latif is dying at a hospital peacefully. His last wish from his children, especially Bol Bol, is to be buried in the cemetery of Arabiya, where all his family rests. Bol Bol accepts the task, and their journey with his sister and brothers begin in war-torn Syria.

In this book, we can see the psychology of horror and terror. This is the main gothic trope of this novel. The setting is a war zone. There are ultimate chaos and terror throughout the story. When they start their journey, which would be an easy task if it weren't for the ongoing civil war, turned into what Matar (2019) comments; "In these present circumstances where large swathes of the country have been bombed to the ground and the rest sliced up by checkpoints operated by opposing factions, the passage will be an existential struggle" (para.3).

Also, the timeline of the novel is affected by this chaotic environment too. Like Faulkner's works, these books also bounce back and forth in time. It shows us how war can affect the narrative and the story's wholeness (Ismail, 2019). There is an apocalypse in this setting that never ends. All they try to do is bury their father where he wanted, but political reasons and senseless civil war doesn't let them do this simplest task.

Moreover, horror is also prominent as, at some point, Bol Bol rethinks his pledge to his father because he was scared of the regime, radical groups which forced them to attend religious ceremonies and disrupted their journey every second they were close to getting their point. Horror and terror also bring about a villain, in our case is the current regime, which doesn't let the characters or the reader forget about them. When they miss a bus, Bol Bol states that the bus would most likely be bombed (Matar 2019). This explains the story's environment; our character is so afraid of their oppressor that he relates daily events to the regime.

To assemble these two novels in terms of gothic themes, we can explain how these two novels are similar. Dead bodies are carried around for a long time. In Faulkner's work, this was done for personal reasons ultimately. Khalifa used the same element, but he used it to uncover our characters unsureness and their conflicts. In both works, dead bodies are rotting too, and they symbolize Latif and Bundren family's disintegration and corruption.

In both works, characters had to overcome certain struggles to do one of the simplest tasks. It is illustrated as bad weather in Faulkner's case, though it was the regime in Khalifa's work. Khalifa's story reminds us Faulkner's chaotic and gothic environment; however, it is much more haunting in Death Is Hard Work (Ismail, 2019). Because in Khalifa's case, it wasn't a normal or natural event; humans purposely created it for political reasons. Also, both authors used some kind of a disruptive and conflicting setting. Faulkner's characters dealt with personal issues and environmental hardships, which is present in every second of the novel. Khalifa's "environmental hardship" was the ongoing civil war and Bol Bol's drawbacks. In both works, characters were reluctant at some point, as Addie's son tried to burn her dead body, and Bol Bol thinking that he should stand up to his father and say no to his last wish. But the messages were different. Bundren family thought they weren't going to achieve their personal goals in Jefferson, or it wasn't worth going there; on the other hand, Bol Bol's reluctance came from his fear of the oppressor.

They also used different approaches to create similar messages. Faulkner created a conflict between life and death, as he included a baby and a coffin, two completely different elements. His characters were also constantly thinking about death and life. Khalifa, on the other hand, created this conflict by using the chaotic environment of Syria. Bol Bol was an afraid boy whose only goal was to fulfil his father's last wish and make sure his father would rest in "peace." However, the enduring civil war was too chaotic and utterly opposite to him.

Lastly, in our analyzed works, we see that Faulkner's era and the setting is a diminished, civil war-ravaged US South in the 1930s, which is also in incredible economic hardships. Besides, it is a morally disordered, racist and patriarchic environment. Khalifa's work is thousands of miles away from here, in the middle east, Syria. It is a current war zone, guns and missiles all over the country in the 2010s. As can be interpreted, settings are different in terms of places and times, whereas writing is close, to a certain degree.

Gothic Literature Essay: Conclusion

In conclusion, gothic fiction is a genre created by Horace Walpole with his work The Castle of Otranto. It was an extension of the Romanticism movement. (InValuable, 2019). It is used to create suspense, emotional stress, violence, mystery, romance, fear. Because Death Is Hard Work and As I Lay Dying presents those criteria, it is easy to describe gothic tropes in both works. They are also close in terms of writing style and plot. Moreover, we can relate the characters of the two books to one another. The authors used the same approaches, such as disturbing setting and heroic characters. However, they also indicated different messages in different storylines. They also used symbols like a dead body to bring about similar messages, as both character sets were rotting as those dead bodies did. As I Lay Dying and Death is Hard Work are two books that share almost identical writing styles and gothic messages, despite being set in two different locations and times.


Actis, L. (2020). The Grotesque as a Tool of the Past As I Lay Dying and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. University of Vermont, 10–16.

Bjerre, T. Æ. (2017). Southern Gothic Literature. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature.

Faulkner, W. (2018). As I lay dying. United States], [Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Invaluable. (2018, November 2). Top 10 Elements of Gothic Literature. Invaluable.

Ismail, N. (2019, March 27). Review: Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa. Columbia Journal.

Matar, H. (2019, May 10). Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa review – searing Syrian road trip. The Guardian.

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