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Rewinding Frankenstein and the body-machine: organ transplantation in the dystopian young adult fiction series Unwind
  1. Anita Wohlmann1,
  2. Ruth Steinberg2
  1. 1Department of English and Linguistics, Transnational American Studies Institute, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Mainz, Germany
  2. 2Institute of History, Theory and Ethics of Medicine, Research Training Group ‘Life Sciences—Life Writing’, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Mainz, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anita Wohlmann, Department of English and Linguistics, Transnational American Studies Institute, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Graduate Training Program ‘Life Sciences—Life Writing’, Raum 04-451, Colonel-Kleinmann-Weg 2, SB II, 55099 Mainz, Germany; wohlmann{at}


While the separation of body and mind (and the entailing metaphor of the body as a machine) has been a cornerstone of Western medicine for a long time, reactions to organ transplantation among others challenge this clear-cut dichotomy. The limits of the machine-body have been negotiated in science fiction, most canonically in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Since then, Frankenstein's monster itself has become a motif that permeates both medical and fictional discourses. Neal Shusterman's contemporary dystology for young adults, Unwind, draws on traditional concepts of the machine-body and the Frankenstein myth. This article follows one of the young protagonists in the series, who is entirely constructed from donated tissue, and analyses how Shusterman explores the complicated relationship between body and mind and between self and other as the teenager matures into an adult. It will be shown that, by framing the story of a transplanted individual along the lines of a coming-of-age narrative, Shusterman inter-relates the acceptance of a donor organ with the transitional space of adolescence and positions the quest for embodied selfhood at the centre of both developments. By highlighting the interconnections between medical discourse and a literary tradition, the potential contribution of the series to the treatment and understanding of post-transplant patients will be addressed.

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  • Funding Research for this article has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), which sponsors the research training group ‘Life Sciences—Life Writing’ (2015/1) at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.