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Beyond trauma fiction: Constructing the recovery narrative and the ordinary hero

Gumb, Lynn (2017) Beyond trauma fiction: Constructing the recovery narrative and the ordinary hero. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Our desire to speak, to tell the stories of our individual and communal suffering, has offered literature myriad tales spanning continents and histories. Traumatic experience has been recorded for historical reference and has been represented in fiction as individual and collective stories. In order to reflect on and analyse such fiction, literary theory, informed by the fields of psychoanalysis, social psychology, neurobiology, psychology and psychiatry, has developed various (and sometimes contradictory) understandings of trauma. Recent discussions in the field call for an alternative approach to the textual analysis of fictional texts: away from the psychoanalytical, and predominantly western, frameworks, which reinforce themes of the unrepresentable, and of madness, illness and revenge generated by trauma, and towards alternative analyses, which broaden the understanding and meanings and the potential narrative trajectories of the impacts of traumatic experience. This thesis, through both a creative work and a critical dissertation, argues for an extension and an enrichment of the narrative trajectory as a process of recovery: from a focus on trauma and its immediate or even predictable impacts, to a focus on the situated (contextualised, historicised), ordinary and everyday processes and practices that together enable the trauma victim to become an ordinary hero: a different, life-affirming subject.

The creative component, sections from a novel length manuscript, “She Went by the Heeles”, reimagines and fictionalises the real, but largely unrecorded and underrepresented, traumatic experiences of Irish women sex-slaves, who were sold to North American slave owners in the seventeenth century. The text explores how characters, although suffering extreme trauma, may be reconceived—in their writing and in their reading—not only as survivors but as ordinary heroes. The critical component, the dissertation, ‘The Trauma of Narrative Fiction’, traces the recent shift of focus from traditional, western-based theories of trauma towards the generation of alternative approaches to reading and, by extension, writing fictions of trauma. To this new orientation, the dissertation contributes a reflection on the value of narrative trauma fiction that traces the everyday processes of recovery, and whose characters include more diverse and assertive subjectivities. In this way, the dissertation also demonstrates how the trauma survivor may be reconceived as an ordinary hero, emerging as a different subject through a narrative of recovery and its attendant processes: resilience, reconciliation and resistance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Surma, Anne
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