Jasmin Glock – Diseases and Disabilities in North-American Gothic Fiction

Gothic horror fiction is a rather conservative genre. It often relies on the use of stereotypes to make the audience experience fear. While the hero usually embodies positive characteristics, the villain only represents negative ones. Many times, the genre uses physical disabilites and deformities to mark the villains as threatening, while the use of diseases represents the fear of decaying bodies and plays to fears of contagion. Such a seemingly atypical corporality can create disgust and the desire to avoid physical contact. Psychiatric hospitals are shown as a space of abuse, terror and suffering instead of healing. This conceptualization links mental illnesses to violence which does not only create fear but also contributes to existing stigma surrounding mental health. Overall, this genre seems to create a general distrust towards medicine and science. This feeds into already existing stereotypes, causes medical misinformation and can keep people with mental health conditions from seeking professional help.

This study aims at dissolving the link between disabilities and fear in gothic literature. Using both a medical and a social approach to disabilites, this study attempts to show that barriers and causes are located in the environment rather than being the individual's fault. Research questions include: Which medical categories are used in the texts and what functions do they fulfill? How do they change under the influence of medical history? Does the portrayal confirm or challenge existing stereotypes surrounding mental health and disabilities?

Author: Jasmin Glock