Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Edward Jacobs

Committee Member

Margaret Konkol

Committee Member

Kevin Moberly

Committee Member

Stacy Takacs


This dissertation examines the post-9/11 American fear narrative across media and genre. First, it proposes the concepts of the fear narrative, the primary fear theme, and the secondary fear theme. Second, it proposes that the fear narrative has a long tradition in American culture, in which its themes have adapted and evolved in historically sedimented layers of development. Third, it proposes that American fear themes change depending on its historical context of production, its cultural regime, its genre, and the form of media in which it is expressed. To help uncover the political unconsciousness of the American fear narrative, it employs the methodology of Fredric Jameson’s three horizons of interpretation. At the first horizon, this methodology interprets a text by focusing on a formal contradiction in the narrative as a symbolic resolution to an irresolvable real-world contradiction. At the second horizon, this contradiction is re-interpreted as a social conflict between two different ideological positions in the text. At the third horizon, this is re-interpreted as a contradiction between sedimented layers of genres, and at this point the text can be interpreted as expressing both oppressive and Utopian ideological content.

To analyze the post-9/11 American fear narrative, this study turns to a variety of genres in several media forms. First, it examines the genre of the 9/11 novel. Here, it is noted how fear narratives use the ten primary fear themes this study has identified to access their contradictions and that these narratives seem to have either ambiguous or hopeful endings. Second, it analyzes the zombie narrative, noting the role of five secondary fear themes that are more specific to this genre. Third, it examines the science fiction fear narrative to note how these texts after 9/11 often explored the secondary fear theme of the hybrid character, expressing an intertwining of anxiety and hope as cultures such as the East and West intermix after the terrorist attacks. This study notes an ongoing discourse among post-9/11 American fear narratives on how America as a Utopian project should move forward into the future.


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