Monsters, Dreams, and Discords: Vampire Fiction in Twenty-First Century American Culture
Wingfield, Jillian Marie
Amongst recent scholarly interest in vampire fiction, twenty-first century American vampire literature has yet to be examined as a body that demonstrates what is identified here as an evolution into three distinct yet inter-related sub-generic types, labelled for their primary characteristics as Monsters, Dreams, and Discords. This project extends the field of understanding through an examination of popular works of American twenty-first century literary vampire fiction, such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, alongside lesser-known works, such as Andrew Fox’s Fat White Vampire Blues. Drawing on a cultural materialist methodology, this thesis investigates vampires as signifiers of and responses to contemporary cultural fears and power dynamics as well as how they continue an ongoing expansion of influential generic paradigms. This thesis also incorporates psychological theories such as psychodynamics alongside theoretical approaches such as Freud’s consideration of the uncanny as means of understanding the undead as agents of fears and powerplays on a scale from individualized to global. Theories of power inform an argument for vampires as indicators of cultural threats, augmentations, or destabilizations within uchronic Americas. This thesis also draws on post-structuralism to inform an investigation of vampires as cultural indicators. Thus, theorists including Auerbach, Baudrillard, and Faludi are called on to underscore an examination of how modern undead narratives often defy – but do not disavow – cultural dominants, spanning a spectrum from reinforcing to questioning of environment. Through an assessment of central vampiric characters and their effects within the speculative Americas they inhabit, this thesis scrutinizes vampire narratives’ interaction with contextualities such as terroristic infiltration and a perceived need for martial hegemony, the fluid form of the American Dream, and the persistence of intra-cultural racial antagonisms. This will be carried out through investigation of two key literary texts within each of the three sections, considering how each epitomizes the sub-genre, engages with key vampiric forms, and extends generic understanding. The narratives on which this thesis focuses range from the apocalyptic of the Monsters section, where overcoming vampire threat is linked to corruption in and of a post-9/11 American ‘democratic’ corpus, to unattainable wish-fulfilment in the Dreams section, home to attempted occlusions of monstrosity in representations of alternative faces of fear hidden within American Dreams, and a questioning of the divisiveness embedded in modern U.S. culture in Discords, where the most divisive and long-standing cultural challenge – racial antagonism – finds vampiric mimesis. While focus here is on twenty-first century vampire fiction as an evolving form, the literary works investigated carry forward a palimpsestic understanding of generic ancestry. As such, fundamental to this analysis is how each of the texts focused on here also assimilates understanding of earlier key works in the American vampire genre. Although film undoubtedly plays a significant role in the history and reception of America’s undead, it only informs this thesis in the form of Tod Browning’s 1931 Universal ‘monster movie’ Dracula, as not only the point of entry into popular awareness for modern vampire fiction, but also a universal referent for all subsequent iterations of U.S. undead. Alongside Bela Lugosi’s influential portrayal of Stoker’s Count in Browning’s film, this thesis focuses on the influence of further iterations of Dracula and the two other foremost variants within twentieth-century American vampire fiction: Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), in which vampire fiction first fully assimilates into American culture, and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976), a romanticizing of undead bloodlust in tension with questioning and angst.
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