Theses Doctoral

Traumatized Girlhood and The Uncanny: Studies in Embodied Life Writing

Yoo, Hyunjoo

This dissertation explores the work of specific female autobiographers or memoirists who have written about their endured emotional or physical wounds inflicted by trauma. Throughout history, women’s writings and experiences have been commonly devalued or excluded from those autobiographical texts within the traditional canon. Further, traumatized women have traditionally been regarded as pathologically divided victims who suffer holes in their psyches. Their stories about traumatized childhood and adolescence are thus treated as insignificant or dangerous and are easily silenced. As a result, life stories of traumatized women have been commonly considered as unfit texts for students to read in class (especially because of concerns about possibilities of (re)traumatizing readers), and thus are commonly omitted from the English curriculum. Considering that the literary world still is dominated by white male writers, this study examines not only traumatized women writers but also women writers who represent “difference” as well as have suffered trauma. This dissertation’s analyzed authors and texts include: Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, Rigoberta Menchú's I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. These women writers variously demonstrate, through their embodied trauma writings, how easily a seemingly integrated/unitary self can be shattered, how unexpectedly the status quo can be destabilized by certain events in their life-writings, and how subversively the history of the female body can be rewritten. The life-writings by these women, who are non-heterosexual, non-white, and from the lower class, and/or who have lived with disabilities/illnesses, are far from that typical autobiographical writing that emphasizes tests of manhood, or beautifies the linear development of the masculine subject. In other words, they never emphasize their triumph over trauma, do not celebrate selfsufficiency or self-reliance, and are not interested in claiming any authority of their own personal experiences. Rather, they highlight the understanding of their own incompleteness, fragmentation, and self-contradiction, which serves to uncover the fictiveness or myths of self-control or self-mastery typically found in narratives by male and often white-only writers. In their life writings, the traumatized adolescent selves are continuously reshaped and discursively constructed, not as helpless victims of terrifying events, as is frequently assumed, but as those with rebellious, transgressive, and uncanny power, who can disturb patriarchal social norms or regulations in their life writing and come to terms with trauma in their own ways: Duras’s eroticizing trauma in The Lover, Menchú politicizing trauma in I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, Kaysen’s depathologizing trauma in Girl, Interrupted, Satrapi’s and Bechdel’s visualizing unrepresentable trauma in The Complete Persepolis and Fun Home. This study employs poststructural theories that “challenge the unity and coherence of the intact and fully conscious ‘self’ of Western autobiographical practices and the limits of its representations” (J. Miller, 49) to examine traumatized girlhood. In particular, based on feminist poststructural critiques of modernist, Enlightenment assumptions about autobiographical perspectives and voices, the following questions are examined in this dissertation: What words or images do this study’s examined authors utilize as a way to (re- )construct a self out of trauma? What understandings or insights do these authors achieve — or not achieve — while working to come terms with their traumas? In what ways might — or might not — these authors’ memoirs or life writings serve or disrupt a palliative/therapeutic role in what often is termed the healing process? What places, if any, might such autobiographical works focused on women’s experiences of trauma have in the English curriculum within the secondary classroom? And lastly, what and who constitutes the English literature canon, and what debates continue to characterize efforts to expand this canon to include voices of the marginalized?


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Miller, Janet
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 16, 2018