Psychological Trauma in Late Nineteenth-Century American Short Fiction
2019-11-25T12:05:56Z (GMT) by
This thesis explores how late-nineteenth century American short fiction can be seen to have contributed to the changing notion of trauma as a psychological concept. Although in the later stages of the nineteenth-century trauma was still understood by the medical field in association with physical shock or injury, many late-nineteenth century fiction writers demonstrated in their works an awareness that trauma could in fact be purely psychological. Also, during this era, women’s mental illnesses—which usually resulted from traumatic experiences or situations—were often classified under the fluid and ambiguous diagnosis of hysteria. Charlotte Gilman challenged this classification and rather understood these maladies in congruence with what has become identified as post-traumatic stress disorder.
I argue that these authors establish the psychological nature of trauma in their short fiction to correct limitations in the dominant nineteenth-century conception and to promote a more nuanced and accurate understanding of trauma. The authors selected for this thesis are Ambrose Bierce, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Henry James, Stephen Crane and Mark Twain. These writers advocated a re-evaluation of trauma along with the re-evaluation of contextual or cultural conditions and belief systems, which, as their fictional work reveals, were greatly responsible for generating trauma in victimized individuals. The thesis centers on the dialogue that existed between science and literature in the late-nineteenth century, a dialogue that allowed for the development of psychological trauma. This interchange is introduced in this thesis through the fictional expressions of the aforementioned authors of the era.