• Thomas Voigt Vejling
  • Ane Thaarup Isaksen
4. term, English, Master (Master Programme)
To initiate this thesis, our considerations are founded in the following questions: How is refugee trauma represented and treated in contemporary literature and how do the traumatic experiences suffered by refugees impact their resettlement? Furthermore, what cultural and societal implications do the representations of refugee trauma carry? To answer this we explore a series of concepts and theories with the aim of examining our corpus of novels.
The field of literary trauma studies provides the thesis with one of its theoretical constituents. Starting with Freud’s initial thoughts on traumatic neurosis, we quickly move to the seminal work of Caruth. As the second wave of literary trauma theory also did, we further engage with the trope of the unspeakable and the potentials of pluralism through the theories of Mandel and Balaev. Lastly, the inclusion of Felman and Laub’s theory is of vital importance for representing the traumatic experience in the novels: the act of testimony and witnessing.
From the theoretical writings we find that the refugee experience can advantageously be divided into three phases: pre-displacement, displacement and post-displacement. We find that notions of nostalgia are tied to the forced displacement situation, and contrary to what the Global North citizen might think, they do not always see the post-displacement country as better. Furthermore, some evidence is provided showing how post-displacement trauma might even be more affecting than a pre-displacement war trauma. To comprehend the adaptability of refugees’ suffering from major traumatic experiences we introduce the term resilience. Resilience informs a series of traits in the traumatised individual that allow them to function beyond expected capacity, and the return to a state of biopsychospiritual homeostasis.
With a varied corpus, our analyses vary accordingly. All of the authors have a significant message for the reader, and to a great extent they promote a sociocritical position. The role of the pre-displacement trauma has different focuses in the novels, where Bee and Valentino are deeply affected by the hardship they have survived in the native country, while the post-displacement trauma is much more articulated within Sepha, Saeed and Nadia. The level of resilience varies accordingly, as Sepha and Saeed are marked by a great feeling of nostalgia, while Nadia, Bee and Valentino to a much greater extent are dysfunctionally functional.
Our discussion considers new aspects of trauma theory that can be directly applied to refugee literature: temporariness, rightlessness and insidious trauma. All protagonists except Bee perceive themselves in a limbo, where they cannot adjust to the host country. Moreover, they feel their human rights are compromised to a degree where they feel disconnected to the reality they find themselves in. By including the aspect of the relation between author and reader, we find that the ethos of the author prove to be central when considering these critiques. The critical reader should always be mindful of the authorial position from which novels are written, as here where they are evenly divided between Global North and Global South natives. This leads us to conclude that while the novels are similar in form, they are rather different narratively. Their greatest force is that they manage to represent the traumatic refugee experience as singular albeit not unique. One final point is also, that to comprehend the refugee experience and resilience, it is absolutely vital to be aware of the Eurocentric perspective.
Publication date31 May 2018
Number of pages128
ID: 280052640