Publication Date

Spring 2017

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Sandra Hughes (Director), Jerod Hollyfield, and Gillian Knoll

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


While there have been many studies of Henry James's ghost stories, there has been surprisingly little scholarship written on postcolonial tensions in these works. In American literature, the figure of the Native American ghost is a common expression of Western settler guilt over native erasure and land seizure. In both his American and British ghost stories, though, James focuses more on the horror within the colonizer than the terrifying, ghostly other from the edge of the empire. As such, these ghost stories serve as a more significant critique of colonialism and imperialism than Gothic texts that merely demonstrate the colonizer’s fear of the racial and ethnic other at the edges of the empire.

James’s earliest ghost stories address to the legacy of American colonialism, staging narratives of indigenous erasure and land seizure by centering hauntings around property disputes. The later ghost stories—written after James had emigrated to Britain— engage in a critique of the imperial British military and colonial power structures that systematically oppress indigenous groups in the name of the empire. These ghost stories all focus on the figure of the Western settler-colonizer and his guilt in creating hauntings; James’s living characters often realize they have been complicit in the wrongdoings that result in revenge-seeking ghosts, and this realization is more terrifying than the ghosts themselves. In this way, James's ghost stories present a means of questioning the validityof colonizer identity, and thus a means of deconstructing the binary of the Western “self” and the indigenous “other.”


Literature in English, North America | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies