Gender in the Slasher Film

In the spring of my sophomore year, I took a Horror Film course that has inspired the work of my senior thesis project. I will be exploring the infamous subgenre of horror films known as the slasher film. I am interested in focusing my work on the ways in which gender is portrayed within slasher films. More specifically, I want to consider the influence a surrounding political environment has on the creation of the slasher film. There is an immense amount of readings and research already out there regarding gender and the slasher film, so, my hope is to complicate and challenge the pre-existing ideas. Specifically, I will be relying on Carol Clover’s work on the Final Girl. My primary films will help identify the importance of analyzing gender and its contribution to the art of the slasher film. I will examine the roles of both male and female characters and the ways in which they help define each other. I will analyze sexuality, weapons, and dialogue along with how fear is created through camera and character positioning. In my research thus far, I have been able to determine a disjunction between original readings of gender and current understandings and interpretations. I have acknowledged there is room for conversation about the external influences on the progression of the slasher film.

The first primary film I am interested in is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film belongs in the “Golden Age” of slasher films. Released in 1974, director Tobe Hooper creates a film that evokes fear and sparks conversation. The film opens with the vandalization of Sally and Franklin’s grandfather’s grave. The siblings gather together a few friends and make a trip to investigate the grave. However, the group decides to take a detour to visit the old family farmhouse. Shortly after arriving Pam, Sally’s girlfriend, and her boyfriend venture off. The flirtatious and promiscuous couple stumble upon a neighboring farmhouse where they meet their doom. Inside resides a family of crazed murderous outcasts including Leatherface, the films psychologically ill killer. Sally and her boyfriend are quickly and gruesomely killed. When they do not arrive back to the farmhouse by nightfall, Sally and Franklin become worried and decide to search for them. It is important to note Franklin is disabled and Sally must push him in his wheelchair as they look for the others. Not long into the search, Leatherface meets Sally and Franklin in the woods. Sally is able to get away as Leatherface uses his chainsaw to kill Franklin. The rest of the film follows Sally, the Final Girl, on a fight for her life. One of the most infamous slasher film scenes is of Sally sitting at the dinner table with the murderous family after being captured. The camera works to demonstration fear and chaos. Luckily, Sally is able to escape in the final scene leaving Leatherface and his chainsaw behind.

This film is filled with many interesting tropes including gender. A few of the particularly interesting aspects regarding gender in this film are sexual activity, phallic weapons, and the masked killer. These themes are necessities to the slasher film, however, was makes them singularly intriguing is the simplicity. After doing surface level research about the Final Girl and the slasher film, the trope is seemingly obvious in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What complicates the narrative is the idea of the disabled body. I am curious how Franklin complicates or completes the feminine and masculine attributes in the slasher film. I think it would be important to research the significance of the body and the way bodies identify masculinity and femininity. As stated, it is obvious Sally is the Final Girl and Leatherface is the killer, but what does Franklin’s role contribute to the story? I would like to research outside influences that may relate to the importance of the disabled body during the 1970s. I also would like to look into the significance of the absent mother figure in the murderous family and how this plays into the feminine and masculine roles the characters play.

The problem I am facing with this film is if I spend too much time focusing on the disabled body and missing mother I will be researching more psychological influences rather than political. At this point in my research, I can not determine if this would enhance my field of interest or confuse my interests. Another factor to include is that I am spent the majority of the Horror Film class analyzing Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I do not want to bore myself or repeat myself.

The second primary source I am interested in is John Carpenter’s Halloween. Released in 1978, this film also contributes to the “Golden Age” of the slasher film. Almost everyone knows the story of Michael Myers, but I will refresh you. As a little boy Michael Myers murders his sister and is taken away to a mental institution. Almost two decades later, Michael Myers escapes and heads back to his hometown on Halloween. His mission is to hunt down Laurie and kill her. On this night Laurie and her friend Annie are babysitting across the street from one another. It becomes clear to the audience Annie is the less responsible character who is consumed by sexual thoughts. Laurie agrees to let Annie go see her boyfriend while she watches both the children. Yet, before Annie leaves the driveway she is murdered with a  knife by Michael Myers. Laurie thus becomes the Final Girl. The film follows Michael Myer’s psychologist on a hunt for his patient while Laurie fights for her life. In the final scenes, Laurie is seen struggling to fight against Michael Myer’s knife before the psychologist comes to her rescue. While both the characters believe they defeated and killed Michael Myers, the last scene shows his body missing from where he has fallen out the window.

This film was so influential to the slasher subgenre that many remakes and sequels have been done since its original. What I find so interesting about the 1978 version are the phallic symbols, the Final Girl, and the sexual references. Similar to my interests in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, gender is understood through these themes and are crucial to the understanding of a slasher film. Specifically, the Final Girl in this film represents a transition of power. I am interested in looking at how masculinity can be taken from the killer giving power to the Final Girl. I want to research how power is determined through masculinity. I then want to look at the sequels and compare the role of each Final Girl. I am particularly interested in looking at the gaps between the 1978 film and the newly released 2018 Halloween. This is where I see myself using political influence to analyze how the Final Girl has been redefined.

However, this research comes problems. I am struggling to decide if using three different versions of Halloween is this too much of a task considering it is basically three primary sources. Will I have the time to properly give detailed close readings on each of the films? I am also concerned that I will struggle with incorporating the correct political sources and information. In my research thus far I have only come across the idea of using political influence in reading the slasher film. Therefore, my research will be newer and I want to make sure I have the right tools and knowledge to do so.

At this point, I was pretty set on using Halloween as my primary text. However, after thinking more about Texas Chainsaw Massacre there is plenty of room for conversation there. The main concern I have using this film as my primary would be that there is nothing groundbreaking about my research and rather just a repetition of the work already done. On the other hand, using Halloween as my primary source seems to be a bigger task. While I am up for the challenge I want to make sure this is possible. I want to make sure I have enough time to create a comprehensible argument.

Works Cited

Carpenter, John, director. Halloween. Compass International Pictures, 1978.

Hooper, Tobe, director. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Vortex, 1974.

Sexual Displeasure and the Strength of the Female

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, published in 2006, is a story that emulates a historic African moment. Adichie creates five characters to demonstrate the intensity of independence and allow the reader to connect with the text. Each character contributes to the many conflicts and tensions within the novel thus far. An overarching tension that Adichie continuously references is the sexual dynamic between man and woman. The relationship between Richard and Kainene specifically illustrates a sexual tension that ultimately challenges traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity.

After meeting at a party, Richard is immediately intrigued by Kainene’s “androgynous” body (Adichie 75). The two characters quickly form a relationship and, subsequently, a sexual one. However, sex does not go so smoothly for Richard and Kainene. Through several reoccurring sexual images, the reader can define the sexual displeasure that causes tension between the characters. Richard is unable to perform properly in bed and becomes ashamed of his body. This embarrassment holds strength over Richard and ultimately gives power to Kainene in the relationship.

It is unclear if Kainene realizes the power she has over Richard, yet the reader can analyze this power through different point of views including Richard’s. The couple’s first sexual encounter caught Richard off guard leaving him with anxiety and an inability to perform. This anxiety follows Richard in his next interaction as he becomes “so terrified of failing her again that seeing himself erect made him deliriously grateful, so grateful that he was only just inside her before he felt that involuntary tremble that he could not stop (Adichie 80). The “involuntary tremble” illustrates the lack of control Richard has when he connects with Kainene. His fear of “failing her” limits his ability to perform and demonstrates the constant anxiety Richard has to please Kainene. Richard’s perspective allows the reader to understand the pressure he experiences to pleasure Kainene as though it is more important than pleasing himself.

Adichie also uses tone to display the consequences of the sexual tension between Richard and Kainene. After Richard fails Kainene again, she suggests there are other ways to make their sexual relationship work. Kainene is unable to look Richard in the eyes as she looks “away as she exhale[s]” (Adichie 85). Her body language becomes distant by looking away as she is unable to connect with Richard in this moment. This angers Richard and causes a “swift surge of irritation, toward himself for being uselessly limp, toward her for that half-mocking smile and for saying there were other ways, as if he was permanently incapable of doing things the traditional way” (Adichie 85). Richard expresses a tone of frustration for both his actions and acknowledging the building tension it is causing between him and Kainene. His frustration stems from his idea of “traditional”. This relationship challenges tradition and redefines the roles of men and women. The tone in which Richard addresses his failure is both anger and confusion about “other ways”.

Together Richard’s point of view and tone work to illustrate the tension between the two characters. The sexual conflict shows Richard’s desire for tradition and Kainene’s acceptance of alternatives. This expands to show Richard’s place in the text as he examines the “traditional” lives of Nigerian people and hopes Africa will inspire his writing. Kainene, on the other hand, accepts the post-colonial Africa as her mother and father raise her in “other ways” outside of the “traditional” culture. This culture holds a high value on the “traditional” roles of women and Kainene’s sexual interaction is just one way in which she defies the norm. Kainene is raised in “other ways” by also is having an education which is a threat the “traditional” patriarchal society. Richard and Kainene’s relationship blurs the line of traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity within African tribes.

BP #4

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Reading List: Abbie

Key Words

  1. Gender Representation and Disfigured Bodies
  2. Psychoanalytic Film Theory
  3. Horror Film Studies

Clover, Carol. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton University Press, 1993.

Clover, Carol. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” Representations, no. 20, 1987, pp. 187-228.

Hutchings, Peter. The Horror Film. Pearson Longman, 2004.

Jones, Steve. “The Pure Moment of Murder: The Symbolic Function of Bodily Interactions in Horror Films.” Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind, vol. 5, no. 2, 2011, pp. 96–114.

Rodowick, D.N. The Difficulty of Difference: Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference and Film Theory. Routledge, 1991.

Welsh, Andrew. “On the Perils of Living Dangerously in the Slasher Horror Film: Gender Differences in the Association Between Sexual Activity and Survival.” Springer/Plenum, vol. 62, no. 11–12, pp. 762–773.

I put this list together based off a class I took a few semesters ago. The course was titled The Horror Film and focused on analyzing movies including, but not limited to, slasher films. I was inspired by this course so I framed my thesis around my passion for horror films and included some themes from the course including gender. I want to open up my topic and use this inspiration to further analyze horror films. I also researched some more articles surrounding my topic and added them as well. I had some difficulty finding a journal right away, however with more detailed searches regarding the film I came across a few that will enhance my understanding of horror film including the “Horror Studies Journal” and “Journal of Popular Film & Television”.

I have compiled a longer list of primary sources including Halloween, Psycho, The Shining, The Orphan, Saw, The Silence of the Lambs, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. As I continue to read and narrow my interest and topic I will have a better idea which films I want to use in my thesis. These are all films I have watched several times and I believe have a great influence on horror film studies and would be useful in my analysis. I am very passionate about determining the significance of the ways in which gender and bodies are displayed in horror films. I want to also incorporate the mind and the ways in which they are disfigured in horror films. I am specifically interested in the slasher film and psychological horror.

For my research, I will begin by defining the different theories useful to my topic including psychoanalytical theory and feminist film theory, specifically the idea of the Final. An author that I am specifically interested in is Carol Clover. Her renowned work, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, highlights many important aspects of the Final Girl and the important role women play in horror films. She also uses concepts of the Final Girl to determine roles of masculinity throughout movies. Clover analyzes a few films in particular and I am curious if her points uphold throughout other major horror films. Peter Hutchings is another author I am interested in studying. His work, The Horror Film, addresses the danger of Clover’s approach to defining the Final Girl in such a feminine and fragile manner. I want to read more in order to dictate the overlap and examine the critic between Clover and Hutchings.

Rejection of Change: Okonkwo’s Tragedy

Each time after reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart the complexities and depths within the novel become more apparent. This is a text that uses storytelling to educate readers about the Umuofia tribe of the Ibo village found in Nigeria. Achebe creates a story that ignites a conversation about his characters, and more largely, the results of western influence on African societies. The first part of the novel primarily focuses on developing Okonkwo as a character and establishing his space within Umuofia. Okonkwo is a character who initially appears to be a man of success, yet throughout the novel, Achebe continuously undresses Okonkwo in order to reveal his core. It is Okonkwo’s layers that give the text its depth and spark discussions of societal expectations found within the Ibo village. Achebe uses Okonkwo’s character to raise awareness of stress inflicted on men to uphold a manly status. Specifically, Okonkwo is depicted as a tragic hero in order to create a character the reader can have compassion for while simultaneously drawing on flaws of societal expectations.

To Okonkwo, being a man means being everything opposite of his father. The father/son relationship within Things Fall Apart builds Okonkwo’s tragedy and highlights his inability to change. The reader can immediately find compassion for Okonkwo within the first few chapters of the book by the way Achebe describes Okonkwo’s relationship with his father, Unoka. The reader knows Okonkwo is embarrassed by his deceased father, but he will do anything in his power to continue to remind his tribe that he is nothing like Unoka. Specifically, the relationship between Okonkwo and his son, Nwoye, illustrates Okonkwo’s desire to overcome his father’s past and prove his manliness. Nwoye is much quieter and does not satisfy his father with his work. It is not until Ikemefuna comes into the story that Nwoye and Okonkwo are able to mend their relationship.

Ikemefuna is another character that uses father/son relationship to emphasize Okonkwo’s overwhelming desire to prove he is a man and thus contributes to the tragic hero he becomes. Ikemefuna was sent to live with Okonkwo and he soon becomes one of family. He acts as an older brother to Nwoye and together they work to please Okonkwo. A new fire has been placed in Nwoye and Okonkwo is pleased, so pleased he invites the young boys to listen to “stories of violence and bloodshed” (Achebe 33). At this point in the text, it is clear that Okonkwo places a strong value on being a man and the reader can now see these values being passed on to Nwoye and Ikemefuna. Nwoye quickly learned that “it was right to be masculine and to be violent” (Achebe 33). So when his father is asked to kill Ikemefuna, Nwoye can only imagine his father’s role in the execution.

Okonkwo was given advice regarding the tragedy of Ikemefuna, yet he neglects it. Okonkwo is unable to change his loyalty to being a man and refuses to show any emotional attachment to Ikemefuna. That is the true tragedy. Okonkwo is so stubborn he walks his new son his deathbed. His inability to change causes further stress on Okonkwo’s relationship with Nwoye who now feels betrayed and hurt. When Okonkwo chooses to disregard the advice he receives of Ikemefuna’s death he not only loses one son but two. The divide between Okonkwo and Nwoye becomes larger as his son is able to adapt and challenge societal values of “violence” (Achebe 33). Okonkwo remains the same and finds himself exiled due to a violent act. A tragedy of a father losing his son is one that draws on the flaws of Okonkwo’s manliness and his powerlessness to change.

Achebe, Chinua. “The Text of Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: Authoritative Text, Contexts and Criticism, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009, pp. 3-117.

Combining the Private and Public Self

In Solomon Iyasere’s piece, “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart”, femininity plays a key role in identifying Okonkwo’s character. Okonkwo is a complex character that involves a lot of detailed attention when establishing his role in the novel. Early on in the text, it becomes obvious Okonkwo is concerned with upholding a masculine title, yet Iyasere suggests “many of the qualities which to Okonkwo were marks of femininity and weakness are the same qualities in which were respected by the society Okonkwo wished to champion” (377). Therefore, Iyasere is suggesting rather than accepting Okonkwo’s personal war to maintain maleness, the reader should analyze the importance of femininity and its effect on Okonkwo. Further, Iyasere states, “for Okonkwo, the conflict between private self and public man is the conflict between the feminine and masculine principle” (380). Throughout the novel, Okonkwo continues to struggle with upholding his title.

While masculinity is respected by Okonkwo’s society, it is important to consider all aspects of that make someone a man. In this case, Iyasere is suggesting Okonkwo needed to allow femininity into his life in order to succeed in his society. Specifically, looking at how motherly figures play a key role in the society and how their participation is one that Okonkwo should respect and strive towards. Okonkwo faces so much discomfort from the inability to connect his “private self” with the “public man”. His inability to accept change forces a barrier between his own personal desire for masculinity and the actual societal desire. It creates a character that is incomplete and confused.

The idea of the Mother Supreme in this novel illustrates this separation and highlights the significance of Iyasere’s argument. When Okonkwo is exiled he must learn the importance of the feminine role and is told “when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. (Achebe 78). This scene shows the important role femininity has on its society. Masculinity is still valued in the sense that when things are succeeding, it is associated with the fatherland. Yet, more importantly, when things are not going well comfort and support can be found from the mothering figures.

Okonkwo is at a point in his life where he is no longer succeeding, he is not the man he once was. When he returns to his clan they do not give him the arrival party he is expecting (Achebe 97). Yet, Okonkwo still will not accept the power of the motherland and what it can offer for him. In a time of need, Okonkwo rather continues to focus his energy on proving manliness through violence. Okonkwo does not allow protection as he believes he is the one doing the protecting. However, in the time that he has gone the society has changed and Okonkwo’s inability to accept the feminine role within his culture hinders his ability to be fully masculine. Okonkwo needs to connect his “private self” and the “public man” by accepting the power of femininity. By continuing to deny protection the reader finds Okonkwo dead at the end of the novel. Iyasere’s argument could change the outcome of Okonkwo’s story from a tragic hero to simply a hero. 

B2

Achebe,Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 3-117.

Iyasere, Soloman O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Ed. Francis Abiola Irele. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009. 370-385.

Being a Butterfly

Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is a brilliant and heartbreaking novel that follows the lives of an immigrant family. The death of Kweku Sai sparks a family reunion that brings the Sais together and unfolds the truths, transformations, and heartbreak. Selasi’s poetic style enhances the emotions the reader experiences throughout the text. Her use of repetition causes the story to slow down and allows the reader to connect with each character and story in this journey. Specifically, the visual repetition of a buttery fly becomes seemingly significant in the first part of the novel. The symbolic butterfly draws attention to important scenes in the story and provides significance to other aspects of Ghana Must Go. I am intrigued by this literary device Selasi uses in order to draw on the importance of death.

A butterfly in many contexts represents the power of transformation and life. In my personal understanding, a butterfly is associated with the soul, life, and transformation. The cycle a butterfly goes through demonstrates different stages of life that may not always be beautiful. This theme is illustrated throughout Ghana Must Go in several forms. One could argue the butterfly primarily represents transformation and change, however, I want to focus on this idea that the butterfly is a visual image Selasi uses to signify death.

The reoccurring image of the butterfly adds depth to the meaning of death in Ghana Must Go. Specifically, the scene in which Kweku sits by his mother in chapter ten displays the visual image and its significance. As Kweku grasps the idea that his mother has passed a butterfly, “black and blue (swordtail), just coming to rest, an almost neon shade of turquoise, black markings, white dots”, appears on her toe (Selasi 59). This scene acknowledges the relationship between the butterfly and death. It is an image that indicates the departure of the soul. The butterfly appears when his mother is gone. The butterfly is a symbol of a life taken. Again in chapter eleven, the image of the butterfly reappears. The beauty of the butterfly distracts Kweku from acknowledging his pain. The image of the butterfly here resembles the escaping of the soul. Kweku is physically feeling shortness of breath and pain in his chest and the butterfly is the image that reminds the reader of death.

In this scene, the butterfly works to also illustrate the difficulty Kweku faces with himself. Kweku desires to be a successful man who is able to provide for his family, however, he feels he cannot always do so. The butterfly thus can represent Kweku and his journey. Kweku is struggling, feeling trapped as to say he is in a cocoon. However, Kweku’s body does not have the strength to spread his metaphorical wings. It is said that a butterfly cannot appreciate its own beauty but brings beauty to those around it and Kweku’s death does that. The beauty of bringing together family and telling stories of migration and transformation through the death of a loved one creates a strong bond.

The butterfly illustrates death and Kweku’s death specifically gives further significance to the repeating image Selasi uses. The butterfly can resemble many underlying ideas within Ghana Must Go including hope, life, change, transformation. I am curious to see the ways in which other readers interpret the butterfly throughout the reading.