The Ghost Story
A popular form of literature in which supernatural elements are central to plot, theme, and character development.
The following entry presents criticism on the representation of the ghost story in world literature.
Ghost stories attained the height of their popularity in England during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although use of ghosts and apparitions in literature can be traced to Greek and Roman times, it was not until the nineteenth century that the use of supernatural elements became a common literary device in English literature. Even then, the use of the supernatural in Gothic and Romantic novels was confined to episodic appearances, mostly intended to create momentary distractions in the larger narrative thread. As reader belief in the supernatural diminished, aided in part by a rationalist mode of thinking, writers and intellectuals found themselves protesting a world full of technical and rational reality. One of the ways in which this protest found an outlet was in the evolution of the ghost short story, a genre that used the supernatural almost to the exclusion of other melodramatic effects.
According to scholar Peter Penzoldt, both the notions of terror and horror are fundamental elements of short stories dealing with the supernatural—the writers of truly powerful stories about the supernatural usually do not need devices of material or physical terror. As noted above, tales of the paranormal became extremely popular with English writers during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Most major writers during this time, including Henry James, Thomas Hardy, and even E. M. Forster, wrote ghost stories of one sort or another. However, according to critic Jack Sullivan, it was the period between the late nineteenth century and the end of World War I that produced some of the best work in the genre. Sullivan lists authors such as Sheridan Le Fanu, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker among those who helped develop the intricacies of the genre. Discussing the reasons for the rise of the ghost story, Sullivan proposes that the trend was part of a larger Edwardian fascination with the extraordinary as well as a reflection of the restlessness that infused the society and culture of the time. Other critics have proposed that the growth in popularity of the ghost story at this time was a direct response to the cultural crisis that confronted intellectuals of the era, a reaction to the realism that permeated the writing of such authors as Dickens and Thackeray.
While most ghost stories focus on the supernatural, many of them have their origins in oral literature or folklore. This is especially true of Japanese kaidan tales and various European ghost stories as well. In Japan, the kaidan tales were part of an oral tradition that derived many of its stories from various parts of the country, including classical Chinese texts. They were used to entertain provincial lords and the general public during various village gatherings and other religious events, often helping keep the listeners awake by their narratives of the strange, bizarre, or frightening. Kaidan tales continue to be popular in contemporary Japanese society, and have now expanded to include tales not just of the supernatural, but also the surreal and other horrors.
While nineteenth-century English authors are most often credited with the proliferation of the ghost story phenomenon, other European countries also have a strong tradition of stories dealing with the supernatural. In Danish literature, for example, ghost stories form a large part of folklore and legend. In contrast to the horror and suspense produced by their English counterparts, Danish ghost stories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century tend to focus on how a character deals with the appearance of the ghost.
American ghost stories, on the other hand, are grounded in a different kind of supernatural phenomenon, rarely dealing directly with ghostly figures or apparitions. Instead, noted critic G. R. Thompson, American ghost story writers tend to convey a misperception of the world around the characters that inhabit their stories, usually connecting the past with the present in ways that create a different kind of horror than the traditional ghost story. Citing stories such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Wives of the Dead” and “Young Goodman Brown,” Thompson notes that American authors often use the blending of the world of dreams with the world of reality as an effective device in creating tales of horror and suspense. In her essay discussing American ghost stories, Kathleen Brogan makes a similar point, when she proposes that twentieth-century ghost stories written by American authors, such as Toni Morrison, often are stories of cultural haunting. For example, in Beloved, Morrison uses a ghost to tell readers about life on slave ships—in this regard, says Brogan, these stories explore the inner workings of not only individuals but also a social and historical consciousness.
Many people believe that ghosts are real, they claim they can supply proof that spirits really do exists. There has been many inventions and techniques used to support this theory. Some believe that they can capture the voices of the dead on tape recordings and that changes of temperature in a room are signs of the spirits trying to communicate. There have been millions of reports of the paranormal in the world, from doors opening on their own to hearing footsteps in empty houses. Many people look for the proof that they are not crazy and that ghosts do in fact exists.
One method people claim is solid proof of spirits would be E.V.P.’s . An E.V.P, or electronic voice phenomenon, is when “ghost hunters” ask the spirit a series of questions while recording
with a tape recorder in hopes to get answers from the other side. This phenomenon many people try to debunk by saying its outside noise or interference from radio signals, even if the phantom voice is answering the questions correctly and intelligently.
Another method used to prove ghosts exist would be electronic fields. Electronic fields can be detected with an EMF. An EMF is an electronic device used to detect faulty wiring in households and electromagnetic fields, however ghost enthusiast use it as a meter to tell if a ghost is in their presence or not. They look for spikes on the EMF and assume that these spikes are caused from paranormal entities because many theorists believe ghosts can cause these electromagnetic fields. Most of the time these researchers will look for rational causes in the spike and when there is no explanation they claim it to be proof of spirits.
There have even been cameras made for strictly searching for proof of ghost. One of these cameras would be a full spectrum camera. This camera takes pictures in all light spectrums, from ultra violet to infrared. They assume this will give them more of a chance of actually getting a good picture of what could be a spirit, since we do not know what spectrum ghost would use to appear to us in. Many ghost hunters use this tool to supply actual photographs of what they assume to be spirits.
These methods are the proof that ghost enthusiasts use to prove they are not crazy and that ghost do exist. Even with all these methods to prove that they do exist there are still and will
forever be skeptics that believe it is impossible for spirits to roam earth with the living. Even though the tons of proof supplied to prove that these spirits exist but how solid does the evidence need to be to prove it when we already have so much proof that supports the theory? Regardless of the skeptics there are still thousands, if not millions of people that believe that spirits do exist and some of these people even have the proof to prove that they do.