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.
Elizabeth Young is the Carl M. and Elsie A. Small Professor of English at Mt. Holyoke College. She teaches courses in women writers, feminist theory, American literature, and film. Her scholarship analyzes intersections among gender, race, and sexuality in American culture.
Young is the author of Disarming the Nation: Women's Writing and the American Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1999), which discusses works ranging from the novels Little Women and Gone with the Wind to African American women's memoirs of the war to narratives of women who cross-dressed as male soldiers. The Journal of American History has hailed Young's first book as "an illuminating analysis of women's Civil War literature that successfully challenges assertions that a heroic masculinity constituted the war's literary heritage." Disarming the Nation was named an Outstanding Academic Title by the journal Choice, and Young was honored with Mount Holyoke's Meribeth E. Cameron Prize for Faculty Scholarship.
Young is also the author of Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor (New York University Press, 2008), a study of race and the Frankenstein metaphor in American literature, culture, and film of the last two centuries. She is the co-author, with Anthony W. Lee, of On Alexander Gardner's "Photographic Sketch Book" of the Civil War (University of California Press, 2007), a study of the relation between images and words in one of the most famous volumes of Civil War photographs.She has contributed chapters to The End of Cinema as We Know It(New York University Press, 2002), Subjects and Citizens: Nation, Race, and Gender from "Oronooko" to Anita Hill (Duke University Press, 1995), and The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film (University of Texas Press, 1996). Her articles have appeared in the American Quarterly and Camera Obscura.