The String of Pearls: The Power of the Serial Killer in Horror Fiction

 

The String of Pearls is one of the perfect Gothic horror novels of the Victorian era. Not only is the protagonist utterly vile and depraved he is actually horrifying. Sweeney Todd is one of the most iconic and terrifying monsters. The strength of his characterization is in the fact that there really are Sweeney Todds out there in the world. The boogie man is a myth, Frankenstein is a fantasy,  and Dracula is a will o’ wisp. Sweeney Todd on the other hand might live and work next door to any of us. He is  Jeffery Dalmer, and Ed Gein. He is the dark side of human nature and he is a stand in for every cannibal and serial killer that has ever existed. From the Greek Cronus to Hansel and Gretel the cannibal serial killer haunts our very nightmares. This is why The String of Pearls has stood the test of time even with a writing style that I believe many contemporary people would find daunting. This story still captures our imagination and haunts us over a hundred years later. I really could not help but think of movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre when reading this book and while it is supposed to be about the life of Ed Gein after reading this I can see how the story of Sweeney Todd helped flesh (pun intended) out the film.

As a simple metaphor Sweeney Todd stands for the indifference of men in society. The hustle and bustle of the industrial wasteland of our society where people, even hundreds of people, can go missing and no one raise an eyebrow. Sweeney Todd works on the fear that we can disappear into the crowd and be lost even in the busiest city in the world. In The String of Pearls he acts as murderer but he could just as well be a stand in for the a fear of losing ourselves and our individuality in the great throngs of people who inhabit our daily lives. This is a fear that can be understood by anyone who has ever stood on a street corner in a large city or who has been packed into public transportation in any city. It plays on a very real and instinctual fear not just of the predators among us, but the lack of interest that people can show their neighbors in urban settings.

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