Tracing Ghosts: The Uncanny Appropriation of History
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Dark deeds and spectral beings have long been part of the Gothic tradition so it is not surprising that they would play a large role in Margaret Atwood’s oeuvre, given her academic training and personal interest in the genre. However, Atwood has taken these traditional characteristics and altered them to help create a unique subgenre of Southern Ontario Gothic. Devious acts in Atwood’s works not only create the spectral beings, but also create a need for confession of them. While Lady Oracle does not begin with an outright admission of guilt on the part of the protagonist, the narration that follows is undoubtedly, as Peter Brooks defines confession: “a verbal act of self-recognition as wrongdoer [which] provides the basis of rehabilitation” (2). While Joan is aware that she is making a verbal confession, she is unaware for what she is confessing. Her confession is not an attempt to acknowledge what she has done, but rather to acknowledge who she is by revisiting the past. While she has indeed lived this story, and thus should find it familiar, her version of the story has been altered by time, creating an uncanny “second self,” or ghost, that resides on the boundary between the familiar and the grotesque. Rather than exorcising the ghost, as in traditional Gothic tales, Atwood’s Southern Ontario Gothic requires that the protagonist confesses her true identity and reintegrates her ghost back into herself in order to cease to be haunted.