Spectral Pumpkins: Cultural Icons and the Gothic Everyday

  • Lorna Piatti-Farnell
Part of the The Palgrave Gothic Series book series (PAGO)


Over the centuries, the pumpkin gourd has evolved from a simple foodstuff found in many homes and gardens around the world to a symbol of terror, magic, and haunted experiences. Hinging on inescapable notions of occasion, ritual, and the everyday — and being at once familiar and unfamiliar to those who encounter it — the carved pumpkin functions as a site of exchange and transformation. Within the Gothic framework, the history of the carved pumpkin is steeped in both wonder and fear. Through its more recent associations with Hallowe’en, the pumpkin has gained fame as a highly commercialised symbol of Autumn festivities, barely recalling feelings of dread and terror traditionally associated with the cult of the dead. Nonetheless, and in spite of its highly commercialised contemporary nature, the carved pumpkin maintains a strong connection to systems of ritual, folklore, and spiritual beliefs that have served to establish its existence within the boundaries of the uncanny. The carved pumpkin, also known as the ‘jack-o’-lantern’, stands for Hallowe’en. It is, in this sense, a ‘living’ entity, connected to both the festival and its multiple cultural narratives. When it smiles jovially, it reminds us of children’s parties and sweets. But when it frowns, it immediately communicates a sense of ‘evil’, of terror. Taking the in-between status of the pumpkin as point of departure, this chapter analyses the history and folklore of the jack-o’-lantern figure as a ‘Gothic icon’.


Spiritual Belief Irish Immigrant Cultural Icon Contemporary Nature Habitual Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Lorna Piatti-Farnell 2014

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  • Lorna Piatti-Farnell

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