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Trauma and Recovery: Finding the Ordinary Hero in Fictional Recovery Narratives

Gumb, L. (2018) Trauma and Recovery: Finding the Ordinary Hero in Fictional Recovery Narratives. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 58 (4). pp. 460-474.

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Our desire to speak, to tell the stories of our personal and communal suffering, 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 Traumatic experience has been recorded for historical reference and has been represented in fiction as individual and collective stories. The word “trauma” is so broadly used in contemporary vernacular that it is difficult to wrangle it into a simple definition. Literary theory, informed by the fields of social psychology, neurobiology, psychology, and psychiatry, has developed contradictory theories of trauma, and contentious debates continue as theorists try to capture what has become an almost indefinable term. Links between trauma and heroism exist in trauma fiction which can be teased from existing literary canons or from contemporary novels. Traditional notions of heroism, much like the concept of trauma, are complex and weighted with a catalogue of elements that may serve to complicate an already multifarious field of study. Notions of heroism can be integrated within a new trauma narrative that reveals a new subject, the recovery process. I argue for a shift from the focus on trauma stories of wounding, or on suffering, and revenge narratives to repositioning literary trauma studies toward more life-affirming subjectivities emerging from recovery narratives. It is my view that recovery narratives consist of three associated elements: resilience, reconciliation, and resistance. I demonstrate how trauma survivors can be read as heroes in their own tales of recovery, and how the story of the hero can be infused into the trauma narrative, or teased from existing texts, to create a productive and progressive narrative rather than the destructive and degenerative approach that focusses on extreme responses to trauma. It is my position that recovery from trauma, as depicted in literary fiction, can be productively read as a tale of “ordinary” heroism.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Copyright: © 2018 by SAGE Publications
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