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The representation of trauma in narrative : a study of six late twentieth century novels

By Natasha Rogers


This thesis conducts a close analysis of representations of trauma in six\ud late twentieth century novels. I construct a theoretical framework by examining\ud debates about trauma and narrative which have taken place in the fields of\ud historiography, social studies, psychoanalysis and literary fiction. By drawing on\ud these debates, I argue that the relationship between narrative and trauma is\ud paradoxical: narrative is an essential tool, both for working-through and bearing\ud witness to the trauma, but it can also intentionally or unintentionally be used to\ud create an inauthentic version of events.\ud I illustrate the need felt by many late twentieth century theorists for the\ud development of a narrative form that will be able to produce an effective version\ud of trauma. This narrative needs to facilitate working-through and enable\ud witnessing of trauma. However, it must strive to avoid producing a falsifying\ud version of the trauma. I argue that it can achieve this by acknowledging its own\ud provisionality and therefore highlighting the limitations but also the necessity of\ud narrative representations of trauma.\ud I argue that the six contemporary novels I have chosen are examples of\ud narratives that strive to develop a more effective means of representing trauma.\ud The novels explore their concerns about trauma and narrative on both a thematic\ud and formal level. The story told in each novel follows a similar pattern of events:\ud in each novel the protagonist is depicted as suffering from the effects of trauma;\ud they all try to evade their traumas by creating falsifying versions of their\ud experiences; and they all offered a means of interpreting which will allow them to\ud work-though and, therefore, bear witness to their traumas. Finally, the six authors\ud utilise their narrative strategies to teach their readers this therapeutic and ethical\ud hermeneutics which corresponds with contemporary concerns about trauma and\ud narrative

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