INTRODUCTORY ESSAY TO OUR EXPLORATION OF MONSTROSITY
Explanation of Color Scheme/Spatial Metaphors of Site
Glossary of Terms
The Oxford English Dictionary lists five definitions for monster:
1. Something extraordinary or unnatural; a prodigy, a marvel.
2. An animal or plant deviating in one or more of its parts from the normal type; spec.,
an animal afflicted with some congenital malformation; a misshapen birth, an abortion.
3. An imaginary animal (such as the centaur, sphinx, minotaur, or the heraldic griffin, wyvern, etc.)
having a form either partly brute and partly human, or compounded of elements from two or more
4. A person of inhuman and horrible cruelty or wickedness; a monstrous example of (wickedness,
or some particular vice).
5. An animal of huge size; hence, anything of vast and unwieldy proportions.
The word 'monster' in America today can mean all of these things, though in the common vernacular it is
generally used as 3 and 5 above: 'Monsters' are creatures we become on Halloween; we drive 'monster' trucks
and look for jobs on 'Monster.com.' 'Monster' implies largeness, a quality almost universally admired in
American culture. But what does the existence of monsters (as 'imaginary' animals) in a culture signify?
A culture's monsters emblematically embody its most acute anxieties. Cultures create and ascribe meaning
to monsters, endowing them with characteristics derived from their most deep-seated fears and taboos.
The body of the monster, then, becomes the site of these cultural proscriptions, representing the taboos of the
societies that spawn them: "the monster's body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy
. . . , giving them life and an uncanny independence" (Cohen 4). A monster cannot be contained. A monster
disobeys its master, overspills its margins, consumes its benefactors. We make scapegoats of our monsters,
attributing to them our own misdeeds and faults while using them as vehicles for intergenerational transfers of
taboos and morals.
The monster becomes a way of explaining the seemingly inexplicable. The humanoid form most monsters
assume is our own--familiar yet unfamiliar--and transgressions performed by the monster reinforce its status as
'other:' "In its function as dialectical Other or third-term supplement, the monster is an incorporation of the
Outside, the Beyond--of all those loci that are rhetorically placed as distant but originate Within" (Cohen 7).
A monster dwells on the fringes of what is culturally acceptable (Grendel). Banished to the physical and social
hinterlands, he is also border guard (Sasquatch). Whoever crosses into the monster's realm has also transgressed,
broken the taboo, courted contamination. The transgressor must then encounter the monster on its own terms.
In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud writes that taboo, originally a Polynesian word, means something
that is simultaneously sacred and profane (821). Taboo does not solicit silence nor encourage ignorance, but
demands rather an awareness and deliberate avoidance of the sacred/profane object or action. Taboo is
characterized by a "dread of physical contact . . . . [and a conviction] that violation will be followed by
unbearable disaster," which is not necessarily "external" or physical (828). The violator of a taboo likewise
becomes taboo and must be avoided. Freud writes that the transgressor "has the dangerous property of
tempting others to follow his example . . . . He is therefore really contagious [emphasis mine], in so far as
every example incites to imitation and, therefore, he himself must be avoided" (832).
Acknowledging that any system of categorization is somewhat arbitrary, subject as it must be to the
caprices and whims of its creators, we propose four categorical rubrics of origination for our discussion of
monstrosity, with the premise that each monster symbolizes one or more cultural taboos: Reanimated
Monsters (once-dead monsters revived); Ecological Monsters (monsters with environmental origins);
Human Monsters (genetic freaks and psychotics); and Technological Monsters (monsters coming into being
through the (mis)application of technical knowledge). Such a taxonomy allows for the cross categorization
of monsters with multiple narratives of origin (thus the vampire might be viewed as both a human and a
reanimated monster). A table of taboos and monsters is included within this site, encouraging comparisons
and debates about the meanings of the monsters and their relations to one another. Furthermore, each over-
view contains a "Monster Blender" which visually depicts the melding of related creatures, reinforcing the
similarities of the monsters and ourselves. Perhaps the horror derived from cinematic and literary monsters
stems from the latent monstrosity that lurks within each and everyone of us.
Click here for the Childhood Monsters Essay
Essay about Monsters
1570 Words7 Pages
In mythology, monsters provide a challenge that humans must overcome. Heroes try to gain fame by defeating them and townspeople are afraid of them. Monsters spread fear for men to conquer. They give the opportunity for heroes to prove themselves. According to Mr. Thomas Bullfinch, “monsters are unnatural in proportions and parts and are employed for the injury and annoyance of men (Bullfinch 1).” Monsters do have strange parts and a common purpose. In Greek mythology, monsters have striking similarities. They fall into distinct categories based on form and duty. Monsters may be part snake, lion, or human. Some have multiple heads. Most monsters’ duties include guarding something for another being. Other monsters have no responsibilities…show more content…
A prime example is the Nemean lion, which Heracles defeated as his first labor. It was fierce and could not be hurt by bronze or stone. It shows its power with violence and physical superiority. The Griffin is another ferocious monster that has the body of a lion but the head and wings of an eagle. It is mostly known to guard treasure. It is a mix of the lion, the king of beast, and the eagle, king of birds, so it was extremely dominant. Finally, the Sphinx was a lion with a human head. It guarded the gates to the Greek city of Thebes. When a visitor wanted into the city, the Sphinx would ask them to solve his riddle. Thus, the Sphinx never used violence to guard the entrance. People wishing to enter the city knew of his power and physical capabilities. So even though the Sphinx never used violence, people knew of its strength and power anyway because he was partially lion. All in all, monsters with lion characteristics are very powerful and feared. Several monsters such as the Minotaur, Medusa, and centaurs appear to be partially human. These monsters have human characteristics because the gods decided to create them that way. The Minotaur has the head of a bull with the body of a man. He was born as the offspring of Minos’ wife and a beautiful white bull sent by Poseidon (Hamilton 157). Poseidon forced Minos’ wife to love the bull. Their offspring was the