Library Dissertation Showcase

Traumatic childhoods: a new developmental model of literary trauma

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

This paper proposes a new model of literary trauma for application to child characters, after the realisation that the traditional model, created by Cathy Caruth and her contemporaries, was only suitable in the study of adult characters. This new model argues that a child identity is not fragmented by trauma, but is created around it; the traumatised child develops in a way that demonstrates strong influence on their behaviours, desires, thoughts etc, all of which can be traced back to the initial traumatic event. Eight primary texts will be discussed across four chapters, moving in a chronological order through the characters analysed in order to demonstrate each stage of the proposed model and the continuing impact of developmental trauma. Chapter one compares treatment of victims of childhood trauma during and immediately following the event, analysing Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita alongside Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers and presenting the transition from twentieth to twenty first century attitudes to child victims. Chapter two progresses to address adolescent characters in the novels Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim and Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory. This chapter begins to fully illustrate founding traumas and their future impact on identity. The third chapter studies characters in their early twenties, reinforcing the notion of the lifelong consequences of a childhood trauma. It analyses Toni Morison’s God Help the Child in conjunction with Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates in its exploration of the proposed model. Finally, chapter four culminates in the discussion of adult characters. It draws together ideas discussed throughout the project, and generates a stark contrast between the traditional model of literary trauma and the one created by the author of this project through the specifically selected novels: Trauma by Patrick McGrath, and Anna Quinn’s debut, The Night Child.

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