Typical Elements of American Gothic Fiction

1.  Settings most often include large, drafty old houses that have "been in the family for years."  Since castles in the American landscape were practically unheard of, early Gothic fiction writers began substituting the family estate for the traditional castle.

2.  An atmosphere of mystery and suspense that is enhanced by a plot which seeks to discover the secrets lying within the supernaturally charged environment.

3.  A ghostly legend, an unexplainable occurrence, or a story about a horrible death or murder that took place at the family estate in question.

4.  Omens, foreshadowing, and dreams usually play a large role in the mysterious air that is created within the story.

5.  Tales include highly charged emotional states like:  terror, a feeling that one is on the brink of insanity, anger, agitation, an exaggerated feeling of some impending doom, and obsessive love.

6.  Supernatural events:  ghosts, doors that open themselves, unexplained sounds, etc.

7.  Damsels in distress are frequent.  Women who are frightened and confused, wandering around lost, or dying due to a slow and unexplainable ailment.

8.  Words designed to evoke images of gloom and doom: dark, foreboding, forbidding, ghostly, etc.

9.  Romantic themes often involve the death of a man or woman in the throes of some great passion, the obsessive nature of a man or woman in love, or excessive grief one feels upon the loss of a loved one.

from http://frank.mtsu.edu/~saw2z/gothicfictionweb/AmericanGothic.htm - Also see http://www.virtualsalt.com/gothic.htm