Our Actual Monsters

This week, we focused on two different readings, one of which was Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Theory.” As I read this article last night, it made me think about how it could compare to real life situations. Even though I am still confused about some of the parts of “Monster Theory,” I believe that I have a general idea of what it is about. A lot of what I read reminded me of many situations that go on in today’s society. 

Cohen’s “Monster Theory” said that beasts and demons are symbolic expressions of cultural unease that pervade a society and shape its collective behavior. In other words, people create their own monsters based on characteristics that are different from what they consider normal. This can be shown in all ages of people.

For example, a small child creates a monster under their bed or in their closet at night because of their irrational fear of what is in the dark. A small creak in their room or a shadow can instantly become a horrifying creature that wants to attack them. Although, as the article continued, it said that fearing a monster can be almost fun and exciting in a way, granted the person is in a safe environment while expressing these feelings. This is shown when the child wakes up the next day and excitedly tell his or her parents about the monster they saw in their room last night. The child is probably in a bright place, feeling comforted by the presence of his parents. 

Another example is when we get older. We all find people who, for some reason or other, probably based on the differences between us, make us dislike them. The more we think about the things about them that anger us, the more we continue to dislike them until it’s at the point where we absolutely can’t stand them. We turn them into our own monster. I believe this is because people HAVE to have people who we dislike because it makes us feel like a better human being. We pride ourselves in not having the qualities we despise so much in other people. 

We have done this in much larger situations too, such as during the Holocaust. The Nazi’s turned Jews into a horrible, monstrous group who they thought was their duty to kill. In reality, the Jewish people were just as biologically human as the Nazi people were. However, because of their different beliefs and customs, the Nazi’s turned the Jews into individual monsters and persecuted them. 

There is a huge variety of ways that people turn things into monsters. A main way is the different customs, traditions, and superstitions in cultures that give rise to different types of monsters. For instance, Dracula originated from Romania and is said to be the undead body of a Romanian king named Vlad III Tsepes. The Centaurs came into being in Ancient Greece, in Greek mythology, probably when some terrified group of people first saw warriors riding horses and mistook what they say as a single creature. People have imagined giant spiders, giant snakes, and giant squids because it is so easy to take a small fear and imagine that it is larger and larger. Some monsters have been around for so long, that the origin is not even known. This shows how people in ancient history had created monsters for themselves, just like we do today. 

In our own day, the world of science fiction is constantly inventing monsters and alien beings from other planets; space, after all, will always have a frontier bordering on the unknown. Star Trek’s “Species 8472” (sorry, I’m a nerd) was a particularly nasty creature, and it was itself named as such by “the Borg,” another monstrous adversary of humanity. This shows how the tendency to create monsters not only took place in the past, or the present, but that it even works itself into our imagination of the future.

If there is anything I have learned from “Monster Theory,” it’s that monsters are a part of us, no matter what. We have always had monsters and we always will. Monsters are a part of who we are, and in a way, they complete us.

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey. “Monster Culture: Reader Culture.” University of Minnesota Press 1996: 16-        24. Print. 





  1. I really loved the line “because it is so easy to take a small fear and imagine that it is larger and larger” and “Monsters are a part of who we are, and in a way, they complete us”. I think you hit this theory right on the head with these two lines and I enjoyed the modern connection to our irrational fears… reminded me of a Freudian theory and gave me some potential food for thought…

  2. AGH! Typo *lines

  3. I like that you took the theoretical piece and made connections across time. That’s part of the reason I assigned the reading. The same core fears that were felt by the people of the Middle Ages, in Europe, are the same core fears that are felt by 21st century Americans. Ultimately, then, that makes all of humanity far more similar, than we are different, in spite of the fact that we all like to highlight and identify differences first and foremost.

  4. I’m with Emma, I loved your concluding lines, very inspiring.

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