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Seeing the elephant: Learned helplessness and Vietnam War fiction

Jones, Portland (2014) Seeing the elephant: Learned helplessness and Vietnam War fiction. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The major part of this dissertation (70%) is a work of fiction titled Seeing the Elephant: a novel set mostly in the Vietnamese Highlands in the period 1962-65. In 2009, Minh, a Vietnamese refugee who is recovering from cancer in Australia recalls memories of his work as a translator for Frank, a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV). The two men work closely together and, through their shared experiences, form a relationship that will have a lasting impact on both of their lives.

The thesis, Everything will always do nothing: Learned helplessness, trauma and the Vietnam War novel, argues that the concept of learned helplessness adds to the scope of what is currently perceived as traumatic response in literary theory, contributing to resolving the tension between literary trauma theory and the study of trauma within other academic disciplines. Learned helplessness is a condition that can affect trauma sufferers, leading to the belief that “no amount of effort can lead to success” (Eggen and Kauchak, 412). The thesis analyses several Vietnam War novels and examines the issues that are foregrounded by reading representations of trauma through the lens of learned helplessness. The thesis offers insights into the role that culture, gender and place play in traumatic representation. It also examines the role of silence in the text, not as a neurobiological symptom of trauma, but as an outcome of cultural censorship. Finally the thesis examines how, when the concept of learned helplessness is employed in literary analysis different representations of healing allow the analysis to move beyond abreactive, linguistic methods to encompass all behaviour that leads to the restoration of contingency.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Owen, Christine
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