Intergenerational Trauma in African and Native American Literatures
The enslavement and persecution of African and Native peoples has been occurring in the U.S. since the 1600s. There have been justifications, explanations and excuses offered as to why one race feels superior over another. Slavery, according to the Abolition Project, refers to "a condition in which individuals are owned by others, who control where they live and at what they work" (e2bn.org, 2009). Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart researched the concept of historical trauma as it relates to American Indians, whereby she found that trauma due to unresolved grief, disenfranchised grief, and unresolved internalized oppression could continue to manifest itself through many generations. This thesis will examine the intergenerational effects of historical trauma as they are depicted in selected African and Native bildungsromans. These specific works were chosen because they allow me to compare and contrast how subsequent generations of these two cultures were still being directly affected by colonialism, especially as it pertains to the loss of their identities. It also allows me to reflect on how each of the main characters, all on the cusp of adulthood, make choices for their respective futures based on events that occurred long before they were born. Chapters One and Two highlight specific works from African American authors Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Walker's novel, The Color Purple, depicts the life of an African American girl in the rural South of the 1930s. In this work I will examine how the loss of the male traditional role of provider and protector has affected the family dynamics and led to the male assuming the role of oppressor. In Morrison's Song of Solomon, I will examine the importance of identity and how one man's flight from slavery has affected the family structure of four subsequent generations. Both of the protagonists, Celie and Milkman, were born free, and yet still feel enslaved, just as their ancestors were, by their lack of choices as well as their quest for purpose and personal justice. Chapters Three and Four will discuss literary works by Native American authors Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie, both vocal advocates of educating the lost generations - those who were forbidden to learn of and practice their language or tribal rituals due to colonialism - as well as Anglo-Americans on the importance of preserving the culture and heritage of their people. In Erdrich's The Round House, young Joe Coutts' family is tragically ripped apart by a physically violent attack on his mother. In an attempt to discover the truth of what really happened and who harmed her, Joe embarks on a journey in which borders, both literal and figurative, jurisdiction, and justice will be defined. The choices made by Joe, the adolescent, will have a direct impact on the evolution of Joe, the adult. In Alexie's Flight, Zits is a fifteen year old boy who seemingly belongs nowhere and to no one. It is this lack of identity that initially leads him down a path of destruction and on a magical journey of self-discovery where he will learn that he has within himself the ability to overcome his own personal tragedies, define who he is, and find happiness. The final chapter introduces the concept of restorative justice, a legal term that emphasizes repairing the harm done to crime victims through a process of negotiation, mediation, victim empowerment and reparations. I will also briefly discuss how both African and Native people are reclaiming their cultural identities through naming, ceremony, and traditions. I will briefly define a new concept developed by Dr. Joy Deruy Leary, referred to as post traumatic slave syndrome, and will show that like historical response trauma, its symptoms can be traced back generations to the enslavement of African people. I will argue that justice, identity and the lack of choices are major themes identified in each of these works which tie them all together. I will also argue that these themes have a direct correlation to the signs and symptoms of both Historical Response Trauma and Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome as defined by Dr. Braveheart and Dr. Leary, and how ultimately each of these protagonists used some means of restorative justice to stop the cycle of trauma and begin the process of healing.
Craddock, Tina. (January 2014). Intergenerational Trauma in African and Native American Literatures (Master's Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/4391.)
Craddock, Tina. Intergenerational Trauma in African and Native American Literatures. Master's Thesis. East Carolina University, January 2014. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/4391. December 11, 2023.
Craddock, Tina, “Intergenerational Trauma in African and Native American Literatures” (Master's Thesis., East Carolina University, January 2014).
Craddock, Tina. Intergenerational Trauma in African and Native American Literatures [Master's Thesis]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; January 2014.
East Carolina University