Faculty Advisor

Hale, Alison Tracy

Area of Study

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Publication Date

Summer 2011


My project is an investigation of the uses and functions of the “unspeakable” in American Gothic literature. The unspeakable, or inexpressible, may occur both stylistically and thematically, take different forms and effects, and implicate different anxieties or cultural concerns. Inexpressibility occurs when the text draws attention to an uncanny absence of explication or signification, or signification that is beyond access—when the text gestures towards that which cannot be stated, described, defined, articulated, or located. For this project, I carefully and repeatedly read Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. My final project, focusing on Poe’s short stories and Morrison’s Beloved, aims to explore the different functions of the unspeakable--examining its rhetorical and thematic applications, as well as its implications for American history and identity. I examine how the unspeakable engages with concepts of identity, race, and socio-political reality; I trace it from its early appearances in Poe’s stories, where it registers a specific anxiety, to its re-appropriation in Morrison’s novel as an exploration not only of the limits of language, but of the specific limitations of the imperialistic English discourse. My thesis explores the significance and resonance of the things that cannot be spoken in certain American Gothic texts, and investigates the implications of inexpressibility for the American narrative.


University of Puget Sound