• Zom­bies in the Class­room: Edu­ca­tion as Con­sump­tion in Two Nov­els by Joyce Carol Oates

    Sherry Truffin (see profile)
    American Literature, Gothicists, Horror
    American literature, Education, Arts, Gothic
    Item Type:
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    education, gothic literature, Gothic
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    To review the history of the Gothic as a counter-Enlightenment discourse is to see the suitability, if not the inevitability, of the Gothic treatment of education and educators. Schools and schoolteachers are keepers and transmitters of enlightenment. At the same time, schools and teachers are figures of power. They decide when children work, when they play, when they take trips to the lavatory, and whether they are prodigies or problems. As a result, they can appear to wield an inexhaustible and inscrutable authority. The conflicted mix of promise and terror associated with schools and teachers makes them appropriate subjects for the Gothic, a genre or mode that registers an ambivalence toward post-Enlightenment rationalizations of cultural authority and power similar to what we see in contemporary cultural representations of schools and teachers. Previously, I have gathered such representations under the designation ‘Schoolhouse Gothic." In Zombie (1995) and Beasts (2002), Joyce Carol Oates develops and enhances the Schoolhouse Gothic by comparing schooling to zombification and using consumption as a metaphor for the effects of formal education. Both novels feature hallmarks of the Gothic such as haunted, paranoid protagonists, claustrophobic spaces, and monstrous behavior. These works portray the academy as a cursed, suffocating place in which various forms of mystified authority make monsters both of those who wield its power and those who are subjected to that power. Considered together, they use the trope of the zombie to suggest that schooling does not enlighten young minds and develop their capacity for higher thought but rather enslaves and consumes them, transforming them into mindless servants, amoral shells, or savage cannibals. Education becomes a form of consumption in which the line between consumer and consumed disappears.
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