“I Bid My Hideous Progeny Go Forth and Prosper”: Frankenstein’s Homosocial Doubles and Twentieth Century American Literature

Title: “I Bid My Hideous Progeny Go Forth and Prosper”: Frankenstein’s Homosocial Doubles and Twentieth Century American Literature
Authors: Frampton, Sara
Date: 2013
Abstract: This dissertation explores the reoccurrence of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein within twentieth-century American novels. While the inaccurate 1931 film version by James Whale remains the best known adaptation of Frankenstein, I argue that Willa Cather, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Chuck Palahniuk return to Shelley’s 1818 novel to critique racist and misogynistic responses to anxieties about gender and racial power in the age of industrial consumer culture. In doing so, I extend existing scholarship on the American Gothic to demonstrate that The Professor’s House, Invisible Man, Beloved, and Fight Club represent a specifically Shelleyan Gothic tradition in twentieth-century American literature. My project draws upon influential feminist and postcolonial readings of Frankenstein and on the theoretical work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and later critics who have developed her theory to show how the twentieth-century novels echo themes and motifs from Shelley’s novel to critique the destructive effects of male homosociality. Each novel contains a protagonist that resembles Victor Frankenstein and responds to historically specific anxieties about gender, race, and industrial technoscience by creating a doppelgänger who enables participation in a homosocial bond that is initially empowering but proves destructive to women, racial minorities, and eventually the creature and creator figures themselves. My reading reveals unexpected similarities between Cather’s The Professor’s House and Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Cather’s novel appears to glorify Tom Outland as the ideal masculine hero but ultimately reveals him to be a monstrous doppelgänger who acts out the Professor’s oppressive impulses; similarly, Fight Club seems to romanticize the male violence instigated by the doppelgänger figure Tyler Durden but actually echoes Shelley’s critique of male homosociality as monstrous. My reading also reveals previously overlooked similarities between Invisible Man and Beloved, both of which feature a black protagonist who surprisingly resembles Victor Frankenstein by creating a doppelgänger to challenge his or her disempowerment by the structures of white male homosociality but end up emulating the destructive homosocial structures they critique. My dissertation shows how all of these writers share Shelley’s critique yet move beyond it by offering alternatives to the destructive cycle of violence, embodied in each case by a female figure who resists or reclaims the position of the abject other in the homosocial triangle.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/24370
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -