Carrie (1976): A Study of the Female Gothic Genre

By Molly K. Lichtner, 2/5/17

Sugar, spice, and everything nice…is this what little girls are really made of?  The female gothic genre begs to differ.  Society has become obsessed with little girls and their lives for three main reasons: their strained relationships with their mothers, their never ending loneliness, and their sexual awakening.  Carrie, the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek and directed by Brian DePalma, embodies these three features flawlessly.  This movie plays upon the watcher’s natural curiosity of the female gothic to attract them.

Although Carrie is 17 in the film, she can still be considered a child because of her stunted emotional growth due to her overtly religious mother and due to the fact that in the first scene of the movie she menstruates for the very first time.  After being teased by her classmates, Carrie’s teacher Ms. Collins comforts her and asks her if she understands what is happening to her.  Carrie has no idea why she is bleeding because her mother never explained it to her.  This begins to exemplify how strange and tumultuous their relationship is.  When Carrie arrives home from school that day, her mother tells her that she is a woman now and strikes her with a bible.  Carrie’s mother believes wholeheartedly that if Carrie had never sinned she would not have “become a woman.”  No one understands what being a creepy little girl is like better than their creepy mothers do.  The film uses the horrors of Carrie’s and her mother’s relationship to draw the viewer in.  It’s like watching a car crash; the viewer can’t look away.

It is obvious from the beginning of the film that Carrie is lonely.  All of her classmates tease her, she has no discernable friends, and her mother is abusive.  The strained feeling of isolation is common in the female gothic, and it is this seclusion that causes Carrie to kill everyone that she feels has betrayed her or hurt her in some way after being terrorized at prom by a classmate.  If she had friends, or someone that she could trust, or a supportive mother, perhaps she could have used her telekinesis for good and not for mass destruction.  Carrie is not only lonely, but she is alone as well.

Carrie’s powers also play into the female gothic because of the fact that they do not appear until she reaches the cusp of adulthood.  In a children’s story, she would be called “magical.”  In a horror story, she is considered to be a witch or cursed.  Her completely normal transition from child to woman equates menses to mystery, and her telekinetic powers demonstrate that.  Carrie becomes all powerful only after she accepts who she is by standing up for herself to her mother.  Carrie’s powers stem directly from the fact that she is a woman.  She is supernatural.

Carrie’s story does not end happily.  She was a tortured soul that encapsulated the idea of what the female gothic is, focusing mainly around the loneliness of little girls, their maternal relationships, and the struggle of coming of age.  People are fascinated with little girls because they are a mystery.  They are unknowable. They are cursed.

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