Chifen Lu



This article examines the significance of child’s play in a number of contemporary Gothic literary and visual narratives. Two short stories, “Subsoil” (1994) by Baker Nicholson and “Word Doll” (2015) by Jeffery Ford, are more closely studied, while some other relevant texts are also discussed. In these works foregrounding old-fashioned games, child’s play is associated with the ancient past, awakening rural and primordial cultural memory. They express an uncanny sentiment, mixing familiarity and estrangement, that is aroused by the return of the repressed past. In addition to the introductory and the concluding sections, the main body of this article is divided into three parts that deal respectively with how these texts evoke latent anxiety and fear about so-called “savage” cultures, the “primitive child” myth and rural childhood. Gothicized child’s play, however, also acts as a conduit—an intermediary agency—for communication with alienated entities. In the final part, I argue that the connection with Others initially brings horror and repulsion, but also enables understanding, empathy and reconciliation, which fulfills the critical function of collective play of building relations and fortifying social bonds, as in primeval societies. These Gothic narratives of child’s play provide a renewed view of play and childhood in our time. Play is not only an inconsequential pastime, but offers opportunities for re-immersion in, rethinking of and constructive appropriation of past legacies. The liminal nature of childhood is also positively acknowledged through emphasizing the qualities of inclusiveness, flexibility and responsiveness in the infantile psyche so as to empower children’s subjectivity and agency.


KEYWORDS: play, Gothic literature, childhood, Rural Gothic


DOI: 10.30395/WSR.202312_17(1).0004