Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Daneen Wardrop

Second Advisor

Dr. Mark Richardson

Third Advisor

Dr. James Ferreira


Gothic horror narratives have been a mainstay of American literature since Charles Brockden Brown's 1798 novel Wieland, and also of our cinema since the celebrated Universal films Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931. Often considered tripe by professional literary and film critics, such tales—both in written and cinematic form—began to gamer intellectual attention during the 1970s as their general popularity soared and as academic interest in American popular culture increased significantly. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Gothic genre became one of the most discussed and debated aspects of American pop culture, with numerous critics weighing in on its potential implications, whether these be psychological, ethical, sexual, racial, artistic, historical, or some combination thereof.

This study is interested in how, since 1968, select popular American horror narratives exhibit antiestablishment themes. By and large, scholars view the Gothic as a conservative—and, in some cases, a reactionary—genre that is geared toward reinforcing narrow conceptions of the status quo by featuring narratives in which horrific consequences are visited upon those characters who deviate from established societal norms. I argue instead that during the cultural upheavals of the late 1960s, popular American Gothic tales begin to invert this ideological convention by depicting establishment society as a horrific threat to those characters who represent the progressive ideals which constitute the American Dream (i.e., equality, opportunity, individuality, freedom). Prevailing critical notions hold that the modem American Gothic originates with Alfred Hitchcock's infamous film Psycho (1960), but I trace its beginnings to a literary source: Ken Kesey 's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), which is the first postwar fiction to explicitly demonize establishment society. It is this demonizing of establishment America that revitalizes our Gothic narrative starting in 1968 and that continues to define much of it to the present day, first in the blockbuster horror films of the 1970s and then in the novels of our most prolific and popular practitioner of the genre, Stephen King. I call these antiestablishment horror narratives "Social Gothics" and explore their development and content in detail from Cuckoo's Nest forward.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access