Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (ix, 244 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Bret Benjamin

Committee Members

Helene Scheck, Paul Stasi


American Literature, Culture Study, Materialist Feminism, Neoliberalism, Testimony, Trauma, American literature, Women, Motion pictures, Violence in mass media

Subject Categories

American Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Film and Media Studies


This project is primarily concerned with the difficulty of representing traumatic experience and the problem of seeing violence and exploitation as natural and inevitable functions of social life. It argues that texts attempting to expose exploitive hierarchies and structural injustices often risk having their stories subsumed and commodified by the profuseness and proliferation of countervailing messages about individual choice and personal freedom. This struggle is highlighted through historicizing five contemporary American narratives--Margaret Atwood's Bodily Harm, the films Boys Don't Cry and Monster, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Linda Hogan's Solar Storms--with and against critical concerns and popular texts. Furthermore, by employing a trauma studies lens and feminist methodology, the dissertation argues for the ways and extent to which realist fiction can function as a kind of traumatic testimony. Reading the individual and cultural trauma in the selected texts in this way offers a unique perspective from which to examine the seemingly constant threat of violence to the female body, even though this violence is continually disavowed, downplayed, or erased. This bodily and psychic violence can be read as symptomatic of systemic cultural and social violence that functions as a policing mechanism for race, class, gender, and sexuality hierarchies. Reading these fictional narratives as traumatic testimony calls for a renewed examination of the importance of emotion and empathy in academic inquiry and the role and purpose of literary critique.