Library Dissertation Showcase

Representations of trauma in Young Adult dystopian literature

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

This dissertation examines the way in which trauma is represented within the young adult (YA) dystopian genre of literature. Emerging in an alternative direction from Cathy Caruth’s argument that traumatic experience is essentially unspeakable and inaccessible, this study argues that trauma can provide a vehicle through which to view critical dilemmas and helps readers come to an understanding of how to respond to trauma. Readers are positioned to view traumatic experiences objectively, allowing them the opportunity to empathise with characters, but also consider the circumstances critically; an imaginative preparation for crisis situations. Through two central YA dystopian trilogies, Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011) and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner (2009), a sharp focus is directed toward the journey from traumatic event to recovery, and the way that community operates within traumatic circumstances. A further two texts, Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay (2010) and Marie Lu’s Legend (2011) also contribute to a broader understanding of how the genre as a whole is listening to, and representing trauma. While the genre certainly has the potential to prompt critical thought processes among readers and educate them on productive ways of responding to trauma, this potential is somewhat limited when we look deeper into how the texts are representing complex issues. There is, in many texts, a lack of reader control as authors attempt to present readers with simplistic responses to situations which simply cannot be restricted to one definitive answer. Many authors of the genre are also particularly concerned with reassurance, and an examination of the conclusions to many YA dystopian novels reveals an apparent fear of an inconclusive ending. The genre characteristically always shows readers the eventual resolution of the trauma, and therefore does not leave space for them to consider alternative trajectories of traumatic experience.

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