In Wikipedia, the "uncanny" is defined as

the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious. It may describe incidents where a familiar thing or event is encountered in an unsettling, eerie, or taboo context. - Wikipedia

I don't quite understand what the definition means. In one YouTube video going over the element of Gothic literature, the uncanny is vaguely described as

"...something seemingly new, and nevertheless transports us to an event or emotions own past or harks back to a bygone era ... situations or characters that may appear unfamiliar at first, but soon reveals to be known or recognized by the characters producing an uneasy or even frightening effect." - Features of Gothic Literature, timestamp 9:57.

None of these make much sense to me. What's the significance of this whole "familiar" or "known" element? Can someone explain the uncanny element more clearly with examples from literature?

1 Answer 1


I'm going to use a character well-known in the gothic for this answer: Dracula.

Count Dracula is uncanny because he reminds us of a human, yet something is amiss in his appearance. He is simultaneously new and old - new to the story, characters, yet from a time period that goes way back.

The uncanny in the gothic is quite simply something that doesn't seem to be as it should. Imagine a zombie as another uncanny trope. It seems human, it should be human, but something just isn't right.

This can be applied to just about anything - the feeling derived is that though everything looks okay, in your heart you feel that something is wrong. That feeling is "uncanny".

For a non-character based example, think about "The Yellow Wallpaper" . The character in the story realizes there is something uncanny about the wallpaper and the house. It looks fine on the surface, yet something is perceived to be not right.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.