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Black Frankenstein

Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor

Elizabeth Young
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Black Frankenstein
    Book Description:

    Publisher Description not available

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0960-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    You can teach an old metaphor new tricks. In the Frankenstein story, first introduced in the novel by Mary Shelley in 1818 and made famous on film by James Whale in 1931, a monster, assembled from corpses and reanimated, rebels violently against his creator. The Frankenstein story has a long history of being used as a political metaphor, and at the start of the twenty-first century, it continues to shape political debate. Consider, for example, critiques of U.S. foreign policy in the wake of 9/11. In “We Finally Got Our Frankenstein,” filmmaker Michael Moore compares Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to...

  6. 1 United States of Frankenstein
    (pp. 19-67)

    In 1831, American newspapers were filled with the story of a “monster in iniquity,” a murderer whose violent rampage constituted “a spectacle from which the mind must shrink with horror.” The monster was found upon capture to be surprisingly articulate, and his story, published in a popular narrative mediated by several different voices, was considered “eloquently and classically expressed.” This murderer sounds very much like the monster of Mary Shelley’s novelFrankenstein, who kills his creator’s brother, bride, and best friend, and who is also a figure of surprising eloquence in the first-person story that he tells at the center...

  7. 2 Black Monsters, Dead Metaphors
    (pp. 68-106)

    Throughout nineteenth-century American culture, I have argued, the figure of the Frankenstein monster served as an evocative political metaphor for the American nation, the African American man, and the conflicted relationship between them. In building an archive of nineteenth-century black Frankenstein stories, I have argued that the Frankenstein monster functions metaphorically, but I have not yet examined what it means, aesthetically as well as politically, for a metaphor to be aligned with a monster. In this chapter, I explore the metaphoric equation between the Frankenstein monster and the African American man, as that equation appeared in fictional form in the...

  8. 3 The Signifying Monster
    (pp. 107-158)

    In turn-of-the-century American fiction, I have argued, the Frankenstein monster operates not only as a metaphor for the African American man but also as a metaphor for metaphor itself. Stephen Crane’sThe Monsteradapts the Frankenstein story in two ways, developing both its implicit racial politics of monstrosity and its aesthetic equation between monsters and metaphors. In this chapter, I analyze the sustained presence of Frankenstein imagery in the writings of Crane’s African American contemporary, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar (1872–1906) and Crane (1871–1900) were both writers of extraordinary promise, concentrated ambition, and prolific output who died young. In...

  9. 4 Souls on Ice
    (pp. 159-218)

    In turn-of-the-century American fiction, I have argued, the figure of a black Frankenstein monster structures the extravagant metaphors of Stephen Crane and the ironized parodies of Paul Laurence Dunbar. These are literary examples, but in the works of both writers, verbal depictions of monstrosity edge consistently toward visual ones. Dunbar wrote for the visual medium of the stage; he often performed his own poetry; and his writing includes many moments of visual revelation, as when Dr. Melville looks into the microscope in “The Lynching of Jube Benson.” Crane’s metaphors are so visually evocative that one of the earliest reviewers of...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 219-230)

    At the same moment that Dick Gregory was killing off the black Frankenstein monster, others were reanimating him anew. In 1977, for example, a comic book calledBlack’nsteinfeatured a white Kentucky slaveowner, Colonel Victah Black’nstein, who builds a black monster-slave; conversely, a novel calledThe Slave of Frankenstein(1976) presented Victor Frankenstein’s son as a white abolitionist who challenges an evil proslavery monster, just after John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.¹ At the same time, musician George Clinton and his band Parliament releasedThe Clones of Dr. Funkenstein(1977), which signified very differently on the Frankenstein tradition,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 231-292)
  12. Index
    (pp. 293-307)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 308-308)