Feasting bodies : structural cannibalism and literature in the 19th century

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Luciana D. Lilley (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Anne Wallace

Abstract: This dissertation presents what have I have termed "structural cannibalism," a theoretical framework that examines embedded cannibalistic violence within human power structures. Structural cannibalism is identified through consumptive metaphors (e.g., legally defining and treating the enslaved as cattle) that function to both hide and uncover the unstable power dynamics of oppressor as cannibal and oppressed as cannibalized, as the oppressor consumes oppressed peoples to sustain and maintain their power. My study explores this framework through the litany of consumptive metaphors found in diverse 19th-century British and American texts: poetry, autobiographies, social problem novels, and the gothic from 1788-1861. Each chapter defines various aspects of structural cannibalism, exploring the ways that the oppressors/cannibals justified, denied, abused, and consumed the oppressed/cannibalized. Using this lens to explore the primary 19th-century power structures of slavery, capitalism, and the patriarchy, I demonstrate that the binaries of eater/eaten are not dichotomous, instead shifting and morphing as the oppressed resist and are transformed from eaten to eater, even if temporarily. For instance, women are typically presented as sexual objects to be consumed, yet they can also be the aggressive sexual consumers. Because the systems of race, gender, and class overlap, this analysis emphasizes how enmeshed and interconnected the structures of oppression are. Ultimately, structural cannibalism pervades all forms of power dynamics, beyond the confines of 19th-century texts and society, offering a more holistic analysis of various forms of oppression while uncovering resistance and equality.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2023
19th century, Cannibalism, Class, Gender, Power, Race
American literature $y 19th century $x History and criticism
English literature $y 19th century $x History and criticism
Power (Social sciences) in literature
Cannibalism in literature

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