This study compares the symbolic meanings of gelatin in two eras-the early modern period and the twentieth century. Rather than offering a detailed history of changes in the process of gelatin-making and use over the centuries, I focus on the shifting cultural meanings of this foodstuff at its most dramatic historical divide, the moment when it became a mass produced product and was widely reinterpreted for the public through advertising. In Shakespeare's day, gelatin took meaning from two primary contexts: household labor practices (namely, the violent and highly visible process by which it was made in the kitchen) and contemporary Galenic medical theory, which dictated that extreme emotions could make the body transform into "jelly." As such, gelatin symbolized the frightening alterability of the flesh made visible in daily practice. In the twentieth century, however, Jell-O's plasticity was transformed into a positive virtue, one signaling childhood pleasures, creative potentiality, even patriotism. Its alterability became a hallmark feature linking this edible to dominant myths about the modern American subject.
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