Bellies that Go Bump in the Night The Gothic Curriculum of Essential Motherhood in the Alien Movie Franchise

Kelly Waldrop


For centuries, authors and storytellers have used Gothic tales to educate readers about all manner of subjects, but one of the most common of those subjects is the question of what it means to be human (Bronfen, 2014). In these classic Gothic tales, a key focus is also the horrific results of an out-of-control and “unnatural” form of reproduction. These stories reveal a kind of social anxiety centered on “marriage or on social and sexual relations between the sexes” and explore how those relations are “threatened or abrogated” due to changes in the culture (Riquelme, 2000, p. 585-6). The Gothic obsession with essential motherhood is used to illustrate for the audience what it means to be essentially female, and it is an obsession that has continued into modern day. Although much has changed regarding the role of gender, sexuality, and motherhood in contemporary, Western society, our Gothic stories continue to explore portrayals of essential, heteronormative motherhood, which are used to teach a presumed young male audience about modern womanhood. One iconic example of such a modern-Gothic story is found in the Alien movie franchise. In this paper, the author examines the first four films in this franchise in order to investigate how the concept of essential motherhood impacts the ultimate definition of womanhood depicted in these films. The the film series is shown to establish certain cultural “truths”: essential motherhood is a cultural reality; our culture is not comfortable with a definition of womanhood outside of essential motherhood; and these issues may only be worked out among those who take up the mantle of womanhood as they talk with each other and figure out for themselves what it may mean to no longer be defined solely by their generative capacities.


Gothic curriculum; feminism; essential motherhood

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JCT: Journal of Curriculum Theorizing is an interdisciplinary journal of curriculum studies. It offers an academic forum for scholarly discussions of curriculum. Historically aligned with the "reconceptualist" movement in curriculum theorizing and oriented toward informing and affecting classroom practice, JCT presents compelling pieces within forms that challenge disciplinary, genre, and textual boundaries.

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