The Meat of the Gothic: Animality and Social Justice in United States
Fiction and Film of the Twenty-First Century
The Meat of the Gothic situates twenty-first century US gothic narratives in relation to a foundational premise of animal studies: that the nonhuman animal is the fundamental Other upon which all forms of human oppression are based. Though the gothic is typically approached as an escapist, melodramatic genre, The Meat of the Gothic contends that these works are actually entrenched in their political moment, deploying imagined monsters as stand-ins for evils that cannot be confronted directly without becoming didactic. Accordingly, I position the gothic as the optimal fictive form to broach historic and ongoing inequity, arguing that questions surrounding the ethical consequences of valuing species based on their utility to human power structures underlie these narratives. Instead of reacting to bias by asserting a claim to a humanity that is at once classed, raced, and gendered, present-day authors and filmmakers create characters who form communities that include nonhuman actors as a means of empowerment and critique. My approach to these narratives is informed by formal analysis; posthuman, ecofeminist, and postcolonial theoretical frameworks; and archival findings, which enable me to position contemporary gothic works in a tradition of activism around issues of citizenship.
I examine novels and that, though situated in the US, interrogate the effects of historic and ongoing global systems: slavery, imperialism, and capitalism. I begin with The Shape of Water (2017), which exhibits how beings rendered, to borrow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s term, “invisible” in the network of global capitalism unite marginalized groups against hegemony. My second chapter argues that Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), while investigating diverse forms of suffering across race and class, insist that all human power structures are predicated on the species boundary. Chapter three demonstrates how Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) write back against a legacy of objectification by recognizing the inherent value of land and species forsaken by white heteropatriarchal society. I conclude by examining how Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel, The People in the Trees (2013), combines two histories—colonial legacies unfolding in Hawai‘i over centuries and one scientist’s decades-long individual criminality—to link intimate and communal violence against humans with nonhuman and environmental objectification.