Literary Monsters: The Rape of Humanity In his essay Monster Culture (Seven Theses), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen outlines seven defining characteristics of the literary monster. He makes the claim that literary monsters are each possessed of these seven theses, which act as a common denominator across monster culture. While each of these theses is present, there is one aspect of monster culture that Cohen fails to discuss, and that is prevalent in enough different monster works that it warrants attention.
Throughout literary monster culture, the act of monster brutality and violence is often described in a sexual nature or stemming from a sexual motive. The monster brutality can be viewed as a figurative rape of the characters who are opposed to the monster. This is made easily clear in Dracula and fairly obvious in subsequent vampire stories, but a closer reading of less obvious texts will reveal sexual undertones in the acts of violence.
This discussion will look at the presence of sexually-natured brutality in Dracula and “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” two very different vampire stories, the physical act of rape in “The Company of Wolves,” and the underlying sexual innuendos present in the movie Aliens. One of the dominant themes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is that of sexuality, as to be expected of a monster that relies so heavily on blood. Blood, itself, is symbolic of sexuality and the loss of female virginity.
Stoker establishes the blood as something intimate and sensual, sexual, when Lucy receives blood transfusions from Arthur, Van Helsing, and Seward. Arthur, Lucy’s fiancee, delivers the first transfusion, and the characters note the direct parallels between Arthur and Lucy’s transfusion and sexual intercourse. There is an exchange of fluids from Arthur’s body into Lucy’s, and afterwards Arthur feels spent of energy while Lucy’s skin appears revitalized. The metaphor is further strengthened by Van Helsing and Seward both feeling it improper for Arthur to learn that other men have made the exchange with Lucy.
Van Helsing makes a direct connection between blood and sexuality: “No man knows, till he experiences it, what it is to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the veins of the woman he loves. (135)” Having established the logic of the text, Stoker furthers the link between sexuality and blood through the effects of Count Dracula’s attacks on Lucy. Both Lucy and Mina are described as being very attractive, but the key difference between the two is that Lucy is privy to her own appeal. Lucy is in a transitional state of coming into her own sexuality, a latent desire for sex that is suppressed by the norms of the society that she lives in.
These latent urges are brought to fruition after Lucy is transformed into a vampire. When she rises, she is described as having something “diabolically sweet in her tones—something of the tingling of glass when struck – which rang through the brains even of us who heard the words addressed to another. As for Arthur, he seemed under a spell; moving his hands from his face, he opened wide his arms. (200)” The “spell” is Lucy’s sexual appeal to her fiancee, now fully realized and being used as a weapon thanks to being unlocked by Count Dracula.
The Count’s attack on Lucy gave her a taste of the fulfillment that she craved her entire life, and now that she has had it she hungers for more. This sexual nature of vampire assault is not only present in Dracula, but also in Karen Russell’s short story “Vampires in the Lemon Grove. ” Clyde, the story’s main character, is a vampire who has taken on human qualities and has befriended a young girl, Fila. In one scene, Clyde remarks that he feels himself returning to his old, monstrous self while looking at Fila. He studies “her neck…her head rolling with the natural expressiveness of a girl.
She checks to see if [he is] watching her collarbone, and [he lets] her see that [he is] (253. )” Clyde’s attack on Fila is foreshadowed in a scene right before it, where Clyde and his wife Magreb see Fila at a movie with a boy. The boy is in the middle of kissing Fila’s neck, but the act is described in a manner that is both sexual and monstrous. Fila’s “white neck is bent to the left, Benny’s lips affixed to it as she impassively sips a soda (256). ” This description is mirrored when Clyde attacks Fila, saying how her “head lolls against [his] shoulder like that of a sleepy child, then swings forward in a rag-doll circle (257). Being preceded by two sexually natured scenes involving Fila’s neck, the reader can assume that the attack, while never actually narrated while happening, has the same sexual subtext as the attacks in Dracula. Another parallel between the attacks is how Fila presents herself to Clyde as playful and cute, very similar to Lucy. Even though Fila knows that Clyde is a vampire and knows that he was eyeing her collarbone during one of their encounters, she still lets herself be in a situation alone with him, as if she were tempted by him.
In both instances of monstrous attack we see that the attacks are sexual in nature, and awaken some kind of sexual desire in their victims, permanently changing them. Angela Carter presents her take on the sexuality of monstrous brutality in her short story from The Bloody Chamber, “The Company of Wolves. ” The story is a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and focuses on the relationship between the fully grown male wolf and the young girl visiting her grandmother. The story diverges from the fairy tale when the wolf rapes the young girl.
As soon as she enters the room and is trapped alone with the wolf, she begins to say the famous lines “what big eyes you have” from the fairy tale. The wolf instructs the girl to remove her clothing and burn it, leaving her naked and vulnerable. However, when the wolf announces his intent to eat the girl, the girl laughs, knowing “[she is] nobody’s meat. ” Again, the monstrous attack is never narrated, further implying that the attack is of the nature that is so taboo it cannot even be written.
The line “carnivore incarnate, only flesh appeases him,” coupled with the fact that both the girl and the wolf are naked, implies that the rape has occurred. The weather outside metaphorically describes the rape. This can be interpreted from the previous line describing the girl’s “small breasts [gleaming] as if the snow had invaded the room. ” The blizzard dying down signifies the end of the rape, and the final line of the story is that the girl “sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf. Here we see similarities between the vampire attacks and the wolf’s rape of the little girl. Both attacks come at transitional stages in the female’s lives, both attacks cause some kind of permanent change, and both attacks either state or imply the importance of blood. The similarities between a vampire monster attack and the physical act of rape are somewhat to be expected. As previously examined, blood is a symbol of sexuality and the loss of virginity and innocence—two acts that are very closely related to rape.
However, the sexual undertones are present in monstrous attacks that aren’t so directly tied to blood or sex. In Ridley Scott’s 1986 sci-fi thriller Aliens, the monsters are aliens of two forms: facehuggers and chestbusters. The standard cycle of attack is that a facehugger alien will latch onto its victim’s face and lay eggs inside, forcibly impregnating the victim before releasing. The victim then appears fine until a few days later, when the eggs hatch and the aptly named chestbuster emerges through the victim’s chest.
The obvious link between sexual brutality and the monstrous brutality is that the facehuggers penetrate their victims and release their eggs inside. However, while the victims have the eggs inside them they are regarded as if they are infected rather than pregnant as a result of the penetration. This is another link between rape and the monstrous attack. The chestbusters break through the chests of their victims accompanied by the spilling of the victim’s blood, similar to the deflowering of a virgin girl—the penetration through skin and the presence of blood.
The less obvious sexual undertone of the aliens lies in the fact that the adult aliens carry with them the threat of facehuggers, making each of their attacks fearful not only for their potential brutality, but also for their potential of penetration and rape. Rape as an idea and rape as an action are present throughout monstrous lore. The very nature of the violence of the monstrous can be viewed as either blatantly sexual in nature, such as the wolf, the vampire, and the facehuggers and chestbusters, or as carrying with them the threat of rape or infection, such as the spread of vampirism and the brutality of the adult aliens.
When viewed with the rest of Cohen’s seven theses, this eighth thesis of monster culture gives a more accurate representation of just what makes a monster. Works Cited Carter, Angela. Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. New York: VINTAGE (RAND), 2006. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses). ” Monster Theory. Ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Russel, Karen, “Vampires in the Lemon Grove. ” The Best American Short Stories, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008 Stoker, Bram, Dracula. New York, HarperCollins, 2000. Illustrated by Barry Moser; afterword by Peter Glassman