Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2012

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Molly Clark Hillard

Advisor Department



The exposure of American readers to the literary monster culminates at an incredibly young and impressionable age. The genre of children’s literature seems to rely heavily on the impact of the presence of villainous monster characters. From the “boogey man” to “Cruella de Vil” to “The Grinch,” children are presented at a very young age with the character of evil. As a result of our early experience with villains, we as readers accept the “bad guy” created in a novel to be classified under the category of “monster.” However, most readers have never even pondered or questioned the label of the “monster.” Through my studies, I have found the concept of the monster to be one of the most complicated character types there is. In my exploration of the literary monster, I have uncovered a community of monsters whose analysis I believe is imperative to understanding the role of the monster in the novel. Although studies of the female monster in literature are abundant, ranging from mythological Greek characters such as Medusa to the supernatural Gothic females in the works of Charlotte Brontë and Mary Shelley, considerable research on a more specific group, the matriarchal monster, has yet to be conducted. The matriarchal monster is unique among all literary monsters both in her gender and in the accepted identity she is supposed to fulfill. As a woman and caretaker, the mother is meant to be a balance between gentle and strong. Because the matriarchal monster disturbs this balance by committing an act that is evil, I believe she is attributed even more evil qualities than a male monster who may commit the same monstrous act. In opposition to this double standard, I will argue that the matriarchal monster tends to be less evil than the typical literary monster, and that her actions tend to become almost heroic. Further, I will argue that the “monstrous” actions of the matriarchal monster result from a struggle for power within her societal structure, rather than from a desire to be evil or cause harm.