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Cannibal Fictions: American Explorations of Colonialism, Race, Gender, and Sexuality

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    Cannibals as figures of the other and images of the repressed.

    The assistant professor of English at Northern Arizona U. analyzes how there 'emerged [in American society] a deeply ambivalent discourse, simultaneously estranging and familiarizing the barbaric cannibal.' P. T. Barnum's exhibition of 'Fiji Cannibals' in the 1870s was one of the first coherent, widespread examples of this ambivalence involving fear and fascination with the cannibal. In it, the 'cannibals' were confined and thus tamed for the amusement of the public. Earlier instances of the U.S. European, white public's unsettled feelings about cannibals representing the foreign and wild are seen in works of Melville, Poe, and other pre-Civil War writers. With Edgar Rice Burroughs' turn-of-the-century book 'Tarzan and the Apes,' a white European male becomes a part of the cannibalistic world, and in some ways exceeds even the cannibals in their ferocity and freedom from the restraints of civilization. Generally overlooked aspects of the popular book and movie 'Fried Green Tomatoes' uncover recent dispositions regarding cannibalism and the concept of the other and the repressed it stands for. By analysis of such texts, other media, and aspects of past and modern-day culture, Berglund sheds considerable light on the continual and changing play between the figure of the cannibal without and cannibalistic characteristics, urges, and designs within.

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