The Gothic elements in the novel depict the characters’ experiences by establishing an atmosphere of despair, gloom, and isolation; using the setting to illustrate the decay of the environment and the characters; and modifying character types to show the impact of the famine. Ultimately, the novel’s Gothic nature supports the work as a piece of postmodern literature.
O’Connor’s novel is presented as a work of journalism by G. Grantley Dixon, incorporating historiographical metafiction and historical references of people, literature, and other documents to tell the whole story of this murder mystery. Throughout the novel there is a questioning of grand narratives and relative truths in relation to the stories of each individual character. This leads to the questioning of what in the novel is true, who is reliable, and the history that is being reported.
Maria Beville argues in her article “Delimiting the Unspeakable: Gothic Preoccupations in Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea” that many of the issues explored in Gothic and postmodern literature are “one and the same, namely: crises of identity, fragmentation of the self, the darkness of the human psyche, and the philosophy of being and knowing” (37). All of these issues are explored with the characters in the novel. As discussed in the “Identity Struggle and Marginalized Figures” section, O’Connor modifies the traditional character types to emphasize the characters’ struggles and the impact that the famine has had on individuals. This Gothic characteristic supports the issues of crises of identity and darkness of the human psyche that are examined with postmodernism. David Merridith struggles against a system that is larger than himself, which contributes to the conflict he has with his identity. Struggling to define who he is throughout his whole life, as an adult Merridith feels useless and ungrateful, tormented by a restless anxiety that makes him feel utterly unimportant (O’Connor 224). Like with Merridith, explaining the characters’ identity and societal struggles defines how the characters themselves are postmodern; but, also utilizing the characters to build the atmosphere in the novel contributes to the Gothicism too.
Gothicism and Postmodernism
The Gothic elements in Star of the Sea work together to establish and develop the novel’s dark atmosphere. From analyzing the setting to exploring the characters, the novel’s gloom is portrayed through all of these characteristics. Beville states “that a postmodern self-consciousness underlies the novel’s dealings with the uncanny nature of history and subjectivity, and this becomes increasingly evident through the narrative where the novel’s postmodern attitude is expressed in Gothic tones” (33). The Gothic nature of the novel intensifies the postmodernism, using the moods depicted by the setting, the characters, and their experiences to convey the questioning of grand narratives, truths, and alienation of the individual.
“The Gothic’s basic investment in ravaging history and fragmenting the past meshes with our own investments now as we attempt to reinvent history as a way of healing the perpetual loss in modern existence” (Bruhm 274).
Beville, Maria. “Delimiting the Unspeakable: Gothic Preoccupations in Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea.” Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies 1.1 (2014): 30-41. Print
Bruhm, Steven. “The Contemporary Gothic: Why We Need It.” The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. 259-276-. Print.
O'Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.