112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Putting the Ancestor to Rest: Indulgent Identity Formation in Paranorman

Alya Hameed, San Diego State University

This paper will critically examine Paranorman through gothic and feminist readings, focusing on Norman's heteronormative and abject relationships (notably with the ghost-witch Agatha and his friend neil) in order to determine the implications the film has on male and femalehood. The ending allows for a complete subversion of certain aspects of society, but does this come at the cost of suppressed femininity?


The relationship between the haunting ghost-witch and the young protagonist in Paranorman serves as the crux of the film. Though never explicit, the obvious implication of the biological connection between the witch Agatha and Norman yields an intangible curiosity that become clear by viewing the film through a gothic lens. In this approach, some of the most troubling and powerful elements can be understood as core struggles with identity and sexuality. The conventional gothic tropes work to mask these underlying tensions, so that the viewer remains unaware by the end that certain aspects of the status quo are upended even while others remain. This paper seeks to examine Norman's various relationships—with his family members, his friend Neil, and Agatha—to explore the level of his abjection and the strength of his inevitable transgressive behaviors. I believe that Agatha figures as his queer other self, and he must either banish or accept her in order to develop. The innocuous ending glosses over the importance of his decision, which results in his transgressive friendship with Neil finding a safe space to be indulged at the cost of re-establishing a dominance and usurpation of the female body/presence. Thus, Norman attains the ultimate subversion by maintaining and strengthening the friendship he forged with Neil without any final obstacles. In this light, Paranorman upholds all the heteronormative trappings of patriarchal society. The question remains, is enabling the queer friendship a pure subversion, or just another marker of homosocial dominance over the female? This paper will critically examine the implications on male and femalehood within this frame, through gothic and feminist theory, in hopes of finding an answer buried deep within.