Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Peter Sands

Committee Members

Joe Austin, Peter Paik, Annie McClanahan, Theodore Martin


Childhood, Commodification, Grotesque, Neoliberalism


This dissertation analyzes grotesque depictions of children in contemporary, speculative comics and literature: Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth, Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet, and Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen. It argues that the grotesque in these texts embodies the tension between children as economic objects and children as social beings, as the protagonists’ nonhuman elements are used to justify their commodification. Because commodification metaphorically transforms people into hybrids, part human/part commodity, the grotesque, with its emphasis on hybrid forms and ontological destabilization, is uniquely suited for representing this tension. Concern over the transformation of childhood reflects anxiety over the dominance of neoliberalism, which subsumes everything under market logic. Realms that were recently considered social, like family and childhood, are increasingly understood in economic terms. These texts turn to the grotesque as a way to visualize the effects of an abstract ideology.