Gothic fiction, liminality, and popular culture, Stephen King's grotesque social commentary in Salem's lot

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Mazur, Christine Teresa
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This thesis examines Stephen King's best-selling novel 'Salem's Lot, as an example of popular horror fiction, questions and comments on its contemporary society. The approach is interdisciplinary and is based on Victor Turner's theory of structure, antistructure, and liminality as described in his study The Ritual Process. Turner's concept of the ritual form is to preliterate society what popular Gothic fiction is to literate society in that both perform the same function as social criticism by isolating and exaggerating parts of "normal" society for the purpose of exposing its weaknesses and promoting openness and change. Linking Turner's theory to literature are Mircea Eliade's analysis of ritual in The Myth of the Eternal Return and Tzvetan Todorov's structuralist study The Fantastic, both of which show the contrast between processual and static structural conceptions of the literary form. The liminal phase of the ritual process is similar to the state of the vampire as it appears in early vampire fiction including Polidori's Vampyre, LeFanu's "Carmilla," and Stoker's Dracula. In King's novel, the events unfold according to classic Gothic form, demonstrating a ritual process that attempts to balance the forces of structure and antistructure. The vampire takeover of 'Salem's Lot resembles the evolution of political and economic systems in western society, in particular, the capitalist system of individual production and gain. The American dilemma of personal versus community success is, in King's novel, the town's downfall. Mikhail Bakhtin's notions of carnival and "official culture" in Rabelais and His World are applicable to King's work to demonstrate how society evolves much like the ritual process, where that which is considered "high" becomes "low" and vice versa. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)