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  • Writer's pictureKayla Williams

H.P. Lovecraft's Racist Ideology: Otherness Elicits Fear


H.P. Lovecraft image retrieved from Travel Between The Pages


H.P. Lovecraft, a mastermind, and a prominent figure have taken horror to new heights into the scope of weird fiction. Stretching his imagination to places that others dare to go, he has influenced a myriad of writers, from Jeff Vandermeer to Stephen King. His writing, once seen as trashy stories written on pulp paper in the 1920s and 30s, is now regarded as ingenious with his Lovecraftian worlds and creatures depicted in pop culture through video games and tv shows. His stories fascinate his readers, leaving them to dream about his mythologies, monsters, and the fictional New England countryside’s the horrors thrive in. Nevertheless, with all of that, we cannot ignore the noxious racist man that is H.P. Lovecraft because it is all intertwined in his stories. The true horror of his narratives is not the creatures themselves but what they represent, a kind of white genocide, and he uses that to create these fantastic stories. H.P.

Lovecraft’s story The Shadow Over Innsmouth centralizes racism and xenophobia as its primary method of eliciting fear and horror in readers by stressing the people of Innsmouth’s otherness.


Before the reader becomes acquainted with the protagonist, they are very familiar with the people of Innsmouth difference in a negative light. It starts by laying out the events that took place after the actual story begins, recounting the series of raids and arrests made in a suspicious, secretive fashion by the Federal Government. It is not clear why the people of Innsmouth were arrested or raided. Everything is unorthodox and uncanny. The town of Innsmouth was destroyed and separated from its people with drastic measures (Lovecraft 268). Meticulously, this opening sets up the reader’s curiosity about the people of Innsmouth and what they could have done for this to be happening to them. Suppose the reader thought they would feel any remorse for their mistreatment.


In that case, that is immediately ripped away through the inclusion of the liberal organizations and their complaints that quickly was withdrawn after they “were taken on trips to certain camps and prisons” (Lovecraft 268). What is implied is that these organizations felt that they deserved their fate based on what they looked like. Difference deserves punishment, and this thinking echoes the structures of slavery as it is a kind of imprisonment beyond one’s control based on otherness. This part in the story speaks to how Lovecraft wants the Innsmouth people to be viewed by the reader and how he feels difference or wrongness should be treated. These events described were used as a vehicle for dehumanizing the people of Innsmouth in the eyes of the reader. The information that is given makes the reader see them as something abnormal. Lovecraft wasted no time inviting the reader to be prejudiced toward the Innsmouth community and eventually fear them because of their otherness.


Furthermore, the reader is made familiar with the inhabitants of the neighboring towns by way of their xenophobic feelings — a hatred that is motivated by the fear of what is foreign or strange — directed toward the people of Innsmouth (Lovecraft 269). Everything the reader knows about Innsmouth is from everyone else’s perspective, not an Innsmouth resident, which contributes to viewing them in a highly negative light through the fog of racism and xenophobia, which sets up fear as the story progresses.


The Innsmouth people’s appearance is a crucial pattern Lovecraft utilizes to instill fear and accentuate their otherness. Throughout the story, Lovecraft uses language like “disease” or “dirty-looking” to refer to the people of Innsmouth (Lovecraft 287, 293). Stripping them of their sameness, their humanity, and highlighting why they are inferior. Reminiscent of how otherness is treated among white supremacist groups to minority groups. Portraying the Innsmouth people the way the story does, creates an asymmetrical power dynamic that makes them appear as a devalued identity because the people of Innsmouth are something the “normal” people in neighboring towns cannot explain. This superiority complex among the “normal” people leaves room for extreme discrimination to take place, which happens countless times throughout the story. The most notable demonstration of the Innsmouth people’s appearance acting as the reason for their disdain is from the “shrewd-faced agent” as he gossiped to the protagonist about the thoughts of the Newburyport residents.


“Some of ’em have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain’t quite right. Rough and scabby, and the sides of their necks are all shriveled or creased up. Get bald, too, very young. The older fellows look the worst-fact is, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a very old chap of that kind. Guess they must die of looking in the glass!” Animals hate ‘em-they used to have lots of horse trouble before autos came in” (Lovecraft 272–273).


This passage and many others like it show that the Innsmouth people’s appearance is why they are hated and discriminated against. The Innsmouth people’s striking look is something they cannot reconcile, which is a characteristic of the weird. Describing the people as not human but other than human, like creatures or monsters that they should beware of. However, the very appearance they despise is the result of inter-species breeding (Innsmouth people breeding with the Deep Ones), exhibiting that miscegenation is the cause of racial and cultural degeneration.

Within the context of the story, it is clear that the mixing of races results in grotesque, barbaric creatures. It can be concluded that the depiction of inter-species sex within the story exemplifies interracial sex that is seen as taboo — a wrong that should never happen. These are principles of the popular racial pseudo-science of eugenics, commonly linked to Nazism ideals, that claim to improve a group of people, one must practice selective breeding. This scientific practice is intimately associated with scientific racism because it allows for the justification of racist ideologies. Lovecraft explicitly expresses this hatred for interbreeding in the plot because what is supposed to be taken as the most horrifying moment is that the protagonist himself is a product of interbreeding.


This is shown when the truth was revealed to the protagonist, and it was immensely horrifying for him. So much so that he tried to kill himself out of self-hate because he is what he fears (Lovecraft 334–335). The inclusion of this body horror trope tells the reader that intermixing or interracial breeding is appalling so much so that it can only be handled by killing yourself, or it will take over and destroy the essence of your genetic makeup, which is what eventually happened to the protagonist. This is presented as a terrifying fate because it coincides with a white supremacist belief that there is a threat of white genocide. The racial undertones of this moment are intended to invoke fear in the reader which is demonstrated with the Innsmouth people’s otherness. The otherworldly appearance of the Innsmouth people combined with their mixed origins becomes terrifying to the neighboring residents, the protagonist, and even the reader because they are different, which is perceived as threatening and outlandish.


Another area within the story that Lovecraft uses to exemplify racist themes to elicit fear is within the landscape of Innsmouth. Innsmouth is described as grungey, decaying, and degenerated (Lovecraft 275, 278). As represented in the title of the work, it is shadowed, which is an appearance commonly associated with something evil or the potential of doom. In the environmental descriptions, the most evident example of racism is in the image of the white belfry. Amid a decaying town where a shadow has befallen, it is clear the “white” belfry is well preserved and noticed. It was not an accident that Lovecraft, a known white supremacist, chose that imagery. It is very in line with the ideology that white is superior to dark and will prevail.


Furthermore, when the protagonist is escaping Innsmouth, the white belfry is looked upon again as he begins to think about how beautiful it must have been in the past before the town was covered in darkness. The protagonist states, “The ancient spires and roofs of decaying Innsmouth [that] gleamed lovely and ethereal in the magic yellow moonlight, and I thought of how they must have looked in the old days before the shadow fell” (Lovecraft 314). His thoughts imply that cultural impurity caused the Innsmouth community’s dilapidation, which is a typical theme of racial supremacist movements where they strive to remain pure or untainted. He yearns for the “old days” before the strange culture surfaced and wreaked havoc covering the town in darkness with monstrous creatures lurking. Not much different than the more recent statement “Make America Great Again” popularized by Former President Donald Trump, laced with a longing for the past that loosely implies America was better before migration. Through racist symbolism, Lovecraft frames otherness in the environment and again classifies it as something negative that is supposed to be fear-inducing to the readers and is horrifying for the protagonist.


Racism and xenophobia are instrumental to the fear The Shadow Over Innsmouth elicits. The stressing of otherness within the Innsmouth community through the use of dehumanizing language for describing Innsmouth individuals, the environmental symbolism of racist ideals, and the interspecies breeding that results in the creation of these “despicable” beings stems from either Lovecraft’s racism or the racial ideologies of the 30s era that he projected into the lifeline of the story. Spread throughout the story are these fear-inducing subtle moments that can serve as an allusion to racial and xenophobic issues. The fictional Innsmouth town and its people are a euphemism for racial difference. Although many political issues can be found within the story, it is transparent that Innsmouth’s otherness descriptions have deep-rooted racist and xenophobic implications once examined, which adds to the overall understanding of the story


Resources:


“The Shadow Over Innsmouth” By H. P. Lovecraft”. Hplovecraft.Com, 2021, https://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/soi.aspx. Accessed 6 Apr 2021.

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