Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Charles McGovern


Scary entertainment is an oft maligned genre of popular culture. It is, however, ubiquitous in modem society with television shows, movies, and countless books all dealing with monsters and other horrors. Modem scary entertainment began to take shape during the late nineteenth century and proliferated in the earlier twentieth with the rise of pulp magazines, radio shows, and motion pictures. Through a study of short stories, films and other primary sources, this dissertation explores how scary entertainment was shaped by political and social discourses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This dissertation argues that far from dealing with timeless fears of death and the unknown, scary entertainment reveals how white, middle class Americans viewed their society. Horror supplied the perfect forms for discussions of the changing understandings of what it meant to be human in the modem world. This study will explore how white Americans sought to reconcile older ideas of self as mind and soul with newer ideas of self as brain and psychological constructs, struggled with Darwinian Theory that placed humans closer to animals, tried to maintain a societal moral order in the face of cold science, and sought to maintain racial superiority in a world they saw increasingly contaminated with other races. Horror narratives allowed white Americans to vindicate their world view by either restoring the proper balance to society or damning it to the very forces they feared.



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