Re-return to the Past and the Present: Trauma in The God of Small Things

  • 鄧 思潔

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Arundhati Roy’s debut novel The God of Small Things tells a complicated story about trauma As a trauma narrative Roy’s novel focuses on the twins’ re-experiences and remembrance of their past in the present moment thereby exposing a pattern of “Oneness-Separation-Oneness” in the twins’ stalled development The crucial points of the twins’ traumatic experience are Estha’s Re-turn or departure and the twins’ Re-return to where they leave the site of their original trauma Estha’s departure forces the twins to register the force of the trauma; that is their forced separation from their mother Ammu and the disruption of their imaginary oneness as twins While it seems the twins are incapable of comprehending the significance and impacts of the traumatic accident Estha’s Re-return along with Rahel’s Return “returns” the twins to a past that they try in vain to forget even though its haunting impacts still elude their comprehension This thesis proposes to zoom in on those fleeting moments when the adult twins are reminded by the presence of each other the fragmented memories of a past too painful for them to remember moments when they begin both to confront the enigma of their trauma and to bear witness to a past that they have unwittingly repeated as they seek to return and reclaim the oneness they thought they have lost In Chapter one I draw upon Cathy Caruth’s notion of “departure” as both trauma and survival and read Estha’s departure the turning point of the twins’ trauma experience in the past as the traumatic moment when they register the vehement force of their trauma on the one hand and on the other hand learn to survive by inflicting punishment on themselves thereby bidding farewell to life as they knew it Chapter Two accordingly delves into Estha’s Re-return and Rahel’s return the turning point for the grown-up twins in the present by discussing the twins’ sufferings of both historical trauma and structural trauma and by conducting a contrapuntal reading of the controversial dual ending of the novel This chapter analyzes the entangled processes of acting out and working through which are two strategies proposed by Dominick LaCapra in his trauma study Chapter three argues that the twins unwittingly undergo an “empathetic unsettlement ” as LaCapra names the ethical response the audience may have in bearing witness to trauma when the twins are watching the performance of Kathakali Their experience of watching the performance plunges them into a process of witnessing and mourning for their own trauma
Date of Award2016 Aug 4
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorShuli Chang (Supervisor)

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