The ‘New Gothic’ in Fall On Your Knees

February 25, 2019 by Essay Writer

Anne Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees contains many Gothic conventions – an eerie mood, an isolated house and castle, supernatural encounters, and secrets from the past that advance the plot. However, MacDonald’s characters do not conform to the Gothic standard. Rather, these well-formed heroines and intricate plot line make the novel much more modern than a typical Gothic one. It addresses issues of gender and sexuality that are relevant to today’s society.MacDonald’s first twist on the Gothic standard has to do with setting. The classic Gothic story takes place in an isolated house or decrepit castle, but given modern ability to travel and communicate, true isolation is nearly impossible. Instead, MacDonald places the Pipers’ home in an isolated area that later became populated: “[The town] had sprung up overnight…the Piper house was suddenly on a street” (p.38-9). The home is still on the outskirts of town, though, on “an avenue… that leads out past the edge of town to where the wide, keeling graveyard overlooks the ocean” (1). The Pipers live between the known and unknown, halfway between civilization and ocean.The sense of isolation is also captured in MacDonald’s depiction of the house’s attic as a place distinct from the rest of the house. While not the “ruinous wing” of a castle that often appears in Gothic novels (Tomkins p.29), the attic nonetheless suggests abandonment. It contains the empty, unused hope chest and little else, so it is associated with sorrowful memories. Late in the story we see that Frances is fearful of crossing the boundary between house and attic: “She needs to sleep in… a place both empty and utterly silent. The attic, being in a state of permanent shock, is both … The problem is that, although the attic is not haunted, the stairs leading up to it are” (p.306). Although within plain view, the attic is treated like a foreign land that is much different than any other setting in the novel. The ‘haunted’ staircase appears in many traditional Gothic novels, but while those staircases would be haunted by some sort of ghoul, the one in this novel is haunted only figuratively in the sense that it carries dark secrets from the past. Another place that brings up Gothic conventions is the cave that Frances and Lily visit. The description of the cave and Lily’s fear are both characteristic of the Gothic novel: “They follow a bend in the tunnel and lose sight of the light at the entrance… Frances stops and puts Lily down … She withdraws a cigarette, and strikes a match against her belt buckle. The tongue of fire illuminates: a pool of still water inches from their feet, dear God, how deep is it? And over there, against the wall – Lily screams” (p. 267). In this passage MacDonald builds a sense of suspense and finally panic, a form of writing very typical of Gothic writing. Another characteristic of Gothic writing is the inclusion of supernatural elements, which Fall On Your Knees does as well. The Piper girls are visited by many ‘ghosts’ in the course of the book. Kathleen refers to the scarecrow as ‘Pete’ and is very frightened by his presence. Lily is haunted by a ghost who appears when she is in a state of consciousness that is between being awake and being asleep. MacDonald writes: “He is standing at the foot of the bed… ‘Who are you?’… Has she spoken this? She must have because the man who is looking at her from the foot of her bed opens his lips to reply. And as he does so, water gushes from his mouth and splashes to the floor. Now she screams” (p.226). Many more strange or supernatural events occur in the novel, but these two figures are the most ghost-like. The family in this story is also haunted by many dark secrets, which is a quality of the Gothic novel that affects the plot and allows for the creation of mystery and suspense. Throughout the story we watch as, one by one, the characters discover the truth about mysterious family members, rapes, and deaths. Only when the truth is revealed can they move on. The novel ends once Lily has uncovered the true family tree and learns who her relatives are, for it was the secrets that fuelled the plot and their revelation allows us to lay the story to rest. One distinction between Fall On Your Knees and the typical Gothic novel is that Lily is an independent and courageous heroine. The typical Gothic heroine experiences “many fluctuations of fortune, during which she seems again and again on the point of reaching safety, only to be thrust back into the midst of perils, is restored to her friends and marries the man of her choice” (Tompkins p.20). In other words, the young woman is at the mercy of the world around her and aspires to marriage. Lily, in contrast, travels widely without peril and always seems in control. Similarly, Frances is self-assured and driven to achieve her (albeit questionable) goals; she makes her own money and her own rules, and works hard to control her own fate.The purpose of the typical Gothic novel would be simply to entertain. Fall On Your Knees attempts to go beyond entertainment and force its readers to think about gender and social issues. Frances and Lily defy conventional female norms; Kathleen and Rose are in a lesbian relationship; the context of World War One brings in questions about politics and conflict; James’ bootlegging introduces Canadian history. While the traditional Gothic novelist would have been satisfied to tell a dramatic story using common themes, MacDonald uses those Gothic themes as a starting point but transcends them by empowering female characters and introducing thought-provoking themes. MacDonald’s ‘new Gothic’ is, in all aspects, much more developed than its predecessor. WORKS CITED:MacDonald, Anne Marie. Fall On Your Knees. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996.Tompkins, J.M.S. “The Gothic Romance.” The English Gothic Novel: A Miscellany in Four Volumes. Ed. Thomas Meade Harwell. Volume 2. Austria: Institut for Anglistik and Amerikanistic, 1986.

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