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The Trauma Novel

Contemporary Symbolic Depictions of Collective Disaster


Ronald Granofsky

This study attempts to make sense of a group of novels that deal in a symbolic way with contemporary forms of collective disaster (the prospect of nuclear war, the Holocaust, environmental destruction). It shows similarities among British, American, Canadian and other novels never before grouped together and argues that they constitute a distinct sub-genre of fiction: the trauma novel. In so doing, the book sets forth an original theory about how literary symbolism functions as part of a cultural response to collective trauma.


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CHAPTER THREE: The Stages of Trauma Response: Regression, Fragmentation, and Reunification: (Atwood, Tournier, Thomas) 107


Chapter Three The Stages of Trauma Response: Regression, Fragmentation, and Reunification The fictional portrayal of the psychological response to trauma in contemporary literature has taken many different forms, the form often depending upon the precise nature of the trauma. This is particularly so since, as I have been arguing, the initial response to trauma in this sub- genre is often dramatized as a miming of the trauma itself in a kind of symbolic repetition compulsion. It is as if the individual or society were paradoxically reconstructing the details of an incomprehensible event in order to imprint upon them the stamp of human understanding. Despite the many different faces fictional trauma may present, however, it is striking to see how often it is greeted in symbolic fiction by some form of regression, fragmentation, and reunification. Though commonly present throughout the text, regression and fragmentation may be thought of as "stages" of response to trauma, not in the sense of one leading to or being necessary for the other (though this is sometimes the case), but in the sense of lying between the trauma itself and the final resolution if such resolution there be. That resolution, in turn, may take the form of symbolic or actual reunification (or reconciliation), which, because it does often take place or is at least adumbrated toward the end of the narrative and after regression and fragmentation, may be considered the final stage of trauma response. Although a denouement of reunification may seem strangely romantic for a...

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