Frankenstein at 200 Symposium: Professor Jennifer Plante, “Liminal Subjectivity in Frankenstein and Get Out

by Jessica Hoops, Clark University ‘18

The final faculty presentation of the Frankenstein at 200 Symposium was given by Professor Jennifer Plante, Director of the Writing Center and Writing Program at Clark. Her paper “The Sunken Place: Liminal Subjectivity in Get Out and Frankenstein” discusses liminality as it relates to systemic racism in Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out, a theme that resonates with the Monster’s situation in Frankenstein (since his social standing is comparable to other marginalized individuals, such as women, queer people, and people of color). Ultimately, Professor Plante argues that Mary Shelley’s thesis “is akin to Peele’s thesis in Get Out: when white patriarchal society casts a subject as an Other (particularly a racialized Other) into a space of liminal subjectivity, it is destructive not only to this Other but also to society writ large.”

Professor Plante turned to anthropologist Victor Turner’s essay “Liminality and Communitas” to provide her audience with a definition of the liminal subject: “Liminal subjectivity is an ‘in between’ existence, at once both within and outside of a space betwixt and between the positions assigned…by law, custom, convention and ceremony.” While liminality is usually imposed by the dominant social order of any given society, it can also be self-imposed, as Professor Plante explains, “as in the case of a subject who rejects the dominant social order and withdraws from it.” According to Professor Plante, in Get Out, the liminal subject (Chris and other African-American individuals) can reintegrate into society after being altered by white patriarchal culture, “but in Frankenstein, the Monster’s exile to liminality is meant to be a permanent condition.”

In Get Out, Chris’ forced inhabitancy of “the sunken place” leaves him with consciousness but no agency, Professor Plante argues, “he is a passive, ‘frozen’ viewer of his own body and is completely controlled by another.” This mirrors the Monster’s condition in Frankenstein since as Professor Plante explains, he “is born into his creator’s society and immediately is cast out of this society by his very creator (and, later, by other humans). He can watch himself act, but many actions ultimately are dictated to him by his rejection from the dominant social order.” Eventually, both Chris’s and the Monster’s liminality within their respective societies drive them to enact vengeance on the dominant social order – Chris’s only means of escape is killing the Armitage family, while the Monster can only find relief in death.