Representation of Trauma and Survival in Native American Literature

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Subject Area:Literature

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In her article, “Where I ought to be: A Writer’s Sense of Place”, Erdrich claims that contemporary Native writers have a special task: “In the light of enormous loss, they must tell the stories of contemporary survivors while protecting and celebrating the cores of cultures left in the wake of the catastrophe”1 Contextualizing two of Erdrich’s popular novels, Tracks and Love Medicine, with contemporary trauma theory the following thesis aims to explore and analyze the representation of trauma and survival of the novels’ characters and the narrative strategies that encourage both empathic and reflective reading. The first chapter concerns the historical and the cultural context of the Native Americans, specifically the Anishinaabe. It addresses the colonization that triggered the Native American genocide as well the analogous traditional, social and spiritual situations. The following section discourses the issue of “trauma” in which it offers varying definitions to the term “Trauma” and provides a summary of the of the basic types and characteristics of trauma. This part also includes the causes, symptoms and effects and effects of trauma including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and PASS (Post-apocalypse Stress Syndrome). The third and last past of this chapter concerns the representation of trauma in literature especially trauma fiction. This literature includes the works of trauma theorist such as Freud, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth. The section also entails the incorporation of traumatic encounter in historical memory and the need of writing a tale as a means of recuperating from trauma among other encounters.

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Finally, the section defines the characteristics and facets of trauma writing while supporting analyses with theoretical background. Chapter two and three will provide an analysis of the novels Track and Love Medicine. Similarly, Dominick LaCapra defines "trauma" as a destructive encounter that disorients the self and causes holes in existence; it has belated consequences that are controlled with hardships and conceivably never completely mastered3. The reaction to these traumatic events is what is referred to as PTSD. This condition is often characterized by symptoms such as spontaneous memories (e. g. nightmares, flashbacks, hallucinations), alienation and isolation, negative moods, arousal associated with aggressive and self-destructive behavior, feeling of helplessness, depression, mistrust among others4. Such events could lead to trauma that may affect the following generations. Intergenerational Trauma Intergenerational or historical trauma can be defined typically in three phases.

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In the initial stage, the predominant culture infiltrates trauma into a population in terms of war, genocide, colonization or slavery8. In the next step, the affected people display physical and psychological symptoms in reaction to trauma and the last phase; the dominant population transfers these responses to trauma to the following generation which will equally display similar symptoms. This process constitutes the intergenerational trauma. This was not simply a difficult time for the Anishinaabe; it is also not a description of a people being “marginalized,” as the scholarship often describes genocide (Bak, Rainwater, and Tidwell). It was the end of the world as the Anishinaabe had known it. From the Anishinaabe point of view, the earth, sun, moon, animals, and plants are all relations (Hallowell, Ojibwa Ontology 45). According to Larson, Indians are post-apocalypse individuals having experienced the end of their corresponding worlds within historical memory13.

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The theory of PASS suggests that in the event of an apocalypse, Native American society becomes predisposed to situations in which PTSD has emerged endemic in their culture14. This argument does not imply that the world views that initially well-versed the cultures have become obsolete. It instead means that the Native Americans are creating new worlds that are factual to their historical origin but conscious of the current realities. Nevertheless, since PASS involves both personal and institutional structures, this occurrence should not be assumed as PTSD becoming endemic in the world18. The suffering supersedes this limit, and this is the reason why recovery process is often complicated, mainly since PASS appears to be generational. The collapse of the American Indian world is a significant aspect of their experience that makes it unique from victims of PTSD and communities struck by a given disaster.

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Such individuals can either decide to forgo their old world or rebuild from the left pieces. This phenomenon constitutes the apocalypse which is a reality that contemporary Indian societies must address20. A society’s success depends on its world and for most communities; social worlds are established on religious foundations. Just recently, the American federal government took initiatives to dismantle the Indian religion. As a result, the Indian societies have been left with the obligation to reconstruct their worlds in the face of consistent genocide pressure. Also, the Anishinabe myths have enabled Native American to maintain a unique identity, and through the continuity of their stories, this society has been able to sustain its cultural sovereignty23. Culture and Spirituality have also been considered as significant factors in aiding the healing process from trauma.

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According to researchers, treatment through a culture which includes activities such as ceremonies, traditional foods, language, spiritual beliefs, traditional values, songs and stories among others are critical in the healing process for traumatized individuals24. Healing process must arise from the tribal communities and derived from customary practices of knowing and spirituality25. Trauma in Fiction/Literature The purpose of writing literature in trauma arises from the need to recount the stories of traumatic experiences to make them “factual” to the individuals and the communities as a whole. The Native American Renaissance literature has however been criticized on several accounts. For instance, scholars had argued that using the phrase "Renaissance” may mean that before this period Native Writers were not producing any significant piece of writing or that these authors emerged without any lifelong community or tribal roots.

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Also, other critics have argued that the book is a source of controversy and has vexing consequences which comparable degrades the artistry of oral customs. In the period of 1980s and 1990s, Trauma narratives emerged with the increasing knowledge of trauma and trauma theory. According to trauma theory, this phenomenon is inexpressible and unable to be either narrated or represented. In trauma theory, Vickroy recognizes the therapeutic and testimonial value of the literary writing touching on trauma. She also argues that that classification of fiction has an essential distinctive feature from other texts and that it can also act as an authentic testimony. The use of experimental strategies and dialogism or the application of multiple unresolved perspectives triggers in the reader a sense of "empathetic unsettlement34. This feeling exceeds the overidentification with a victim who could encourage rationalization.

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Symbolic experimentation is also essential in assisting a reader to recognize and even engage in a terrifying and secluding experience. Trauma and Experience: Introduction. Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Lincoln, Kenneth. Native American Renaissance, University of California Press. Alexander, Jeffrey C. In The Shifting Borders of Race and Identity—A Research and Teaching Workshop on the First Nations and African American Experience Erdrich, Louise (1985) Where I Ought to Be: A Writer’s Sense of Place, http://www. nytimes. com/1985/07/28/books/where-i-ought-to-be-a-writer-s-sense-of-place. html?pagewanted=all.

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