Black Frankenstein

The Making of an American Metaphor

336 pages

18 illustrations

August, 2008

ISBN: 9780814797167



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Elizabeth Young is Professor of English and Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of Disarming the Nation: Women's Writing and the American Civil War and co-author of On Alexander Gardner's "Photographic Sketch Book" of the Civil War.

All books by Elizabeth Young

For all the scholarship devoted to Mary Shelley's English novel Frankenstein, there has been surprisingly little attention paid to its role in American culture, and virtually none to its racial resonances in the United States. In Black Frankenstein, Elizabeth Young identifies and interprets the figure of a black American Frankenstein monster as it appears with surprising frequency throughout nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. culture, in fiction, film, essays, oratory, painting, and other media, and in works by both whites and African Americans.

Black Frankenstein stories, Young argues, effect four kinds of racial critique: they humanize the slave; they explain, if not justify, black violence; they condemn the slaveowner; and they expose the instability of white power. The black Frankenstein's monster has served as a powerful metaphor for reinforcing racial hierarchy—and as an even more powerful metaphor for shaping anti-racist critique. Illuminating the power of parody and reappropriation, Black Frankenstein tells the story of a metaphor that continues to matter to literature, culture, aesthetics, and politics.


  • "A subtle, complex, and deeply read romp through the last two centuries of transatlantic literary and cultural history. Truly eye-opening and provocative."

    —Eric Lott, University of Virginia

  • In Black Frankenstein, Young tears apart and rearranges the monster we think we know into something entirely fresh and challenging. This excellent and provocative book offers a compelling lesson in the political and cultural uses of a metaphor organized by design, as well as unconsciously, into a racial paradigm."

    —Eric J. Sundquist, author of Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America

  • "Young’s ‘black Frankenstein’ monster becomes a powerful metaphor for negotiating the racial anxieties of modern America. As the author recounts, the figure appears in both racist and antiracist discourses, exhibiting the powerful mobility of the monster metaphor as well as its popular appeal. Young combines sharp analysis with her amazing research, noteworthy for its breadth and scope, to demonstrate the depths to which this image has penetrated American racial cultures. Whether she is examining novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar, filmmaker Mel Brooks, or comedian Dick Gregory, Young offers astute readings of the cultural text and its racial underpinnings. Building on recent work by Paul Gilroy, Teresa Goddu, Toni Morrison, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri, this book provides a compelling new vision of the monster we thought we knew so well. Highly recommended."


  • "Young encourages readers to use her work to further develop the idea of the Frankenstein metaphor. She has given scholars of literature and metaphorical studies an excellent place to begin."

    —Edward Dauterich, African American Review