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Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Gothic Elements

Setting: In the Gothic genre, the setting has a powerful effect on the story and can be a character in itself. Oftentimes, the setting is gloomy and filled with different kinds of decay, which adds to the dark, mysterious, and fearful atmosphere. Examples of Gothic settings include:A majority of Star of the Sea takes place either on a ship making a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, or in Ireland, which has been ravaged by the devastating famine that is taking place. Being on the ship, a ship which begins to deteriorate as its journey continues, forces the passengers to realize their own powerlessness. Throughout the voyage “People spoke quietly on the decks after dark, as though fearful of awakening the ocean savagery” (O’Connor XII). Star of the Sea takes the atmosphere that its settings convey and reflects it on the characters. The characters in themselves are manifestations of the settings. The state of their lives echoes the state of the settings.  

The Supernatural: Supernatural beings, monsters, or occurrences can often be found in Gothic literature. Allowing for the abandonment of reason, the supernatural brings in the element of the unknown and intensifies all fear and mystery.

Although Star of the Sea does not contain any supernatural occurrences or beings, the character Pius Mulvey is first introduced as “The Monster” (O’Connor XI). He is described as an evil that walks among the passengers, who eventually come to call him “the Ghost” (O’Connor XII). This character is a real person, not a supernatural monster or ghost, but because the passengers on the ship do not understand him, believe him to be strange, and fear him, they relate him to the supernatural. To the passengers, Mulvey represents the element of the unknown, which can only be explained through the supernatural. 

Isolation: Through characters' physical and psychological states, sociocultural circumstances, and the setting, isolation can be portrayed in multiple ways in Gothic literature.

In Star of the Sea, isolation functions as a theme. The characters are forced into physical and psychological isolation due to the setting and society. Being on a ship in the middle of the sea, living on a land blighted by the famine, and struggling with identities that are forced upon them, each character reacts differently to this isolation. The novel is heavy with isolation, which in turn intensifies the Irish Famine experience.

Intense Emotion: The Gothic utilizes intense and unrelenting emotions, such as the experience of the sublime, terror, and sentimental narration.

There are few times during which characters express intense emotions. While on the ship, there is a constant awareness of the vulnerability of being at sea and the desperation of the passengers to make it safely to New York City. This awareness creates an atmosphere of fear that resides throughout the novel. There is one point during which David Merridith seeks nature to temporarily alleviate him from the intense fear and desperation that is felt by many of the characters. While in London, Merridith would often walk down to the bank of the Thames to stand alone at the edge and feel a deep blissful peace which only the water could bring (O’Connor 226). This instance is one of the few times where a character feels a sense of relief from their own misery.

Character Types: There are several kinds of characters that can often be found in Gothic literature, including:O’Connor takes these traditional character types and depicts them as products of the world they live in. Mary Duane, who serves as the virginal maiden, represents the reality of what can happen to a young peasant girl when she experiences multiple tragedies, lives a life of poverty, and struggles against those who have power over her. Merridith once describes her saying, “She wasn’t a child, and neither was she a saint. But he had never once seen her do an act of deliberate cruelty” (O’Connor 227). Mary is only one example of a character who struggles to overcome the issues that society forces upon her. Struggling to survive during a famine and enduring the injustices of society impact all the characters within the novel. These traditional character types are shifted to represent a realistic view of what happens to those who are marginalized and oppressed. 

Motifs: Common Gothic motifs include:


Gothic novels often incorporate “Spooky setting (mansions, abbeys, castles); nightmare visions of the home; secret passages; locked rooms; a feeling of mystery and suspense; an emphasis on madness and disordered state of mind; omens, portents, visions, and the supernatural; and tortured family relationships often involving
persecution of the female--all of which work to threaten the reader’s
sense of what is ‘normal’ "


Works Cited
Kandola, Sondeep. "Gothic." In Maunder, Andrew, ed. Encyclopedia of Literary Romanticism. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

O'Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea‚Äč. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. "Gothic Convention." Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. "Supernatural Themes in Gothic Literature." Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Stevens, David. The Gothic Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print.
‚ÄčResearcher/Writer: Sarah Swansen
Technical Designers: Carissa Rodenbiker & Krystal Jamison

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