Representations of Trauma in the Fiction of American Third Generation Holocaust Descendants

  • Sarah Coakley

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    As time places more distance between ourselves and the Holocaust, and unfortunately more survivors pass away, the locus of Holocaust memory has shifted, to an extent, from its survivors to their descendants. Integral to this is the concept of trauma, which is not only central to studies of the Holocaust, but, as recent research suggests, has a sustained effect on subsequent generations, thus problematising strict categorisations of who can be considered ‘traumatised’ or what constitutes a trauma. Consequently, this thesis develops and utilises a theoretical spectrum of trauma that encompasses individual, transgenerational, and cultural traumatisation. In accordance with the long historical relationship between trauma and writing, it focuses on and explores this theory through the literary fiction of three American grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, known as the third generation—Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, and Rachel Kadish—and the ways in which they represent these traumas and the complexities in how they intersect, imbricate, and interact in a context where, due to death or traumatic silence, full knowledge of the traumatic past can be difficult or even impossible. By considering each author’s work as an oeuvre, comparisons are made between each author’s approach and within their own body of work, thus facilitating a multifaceted appraisal of issues pertinent to the third generation and its associated negotiation of the concepts of history, memory, and trauma, including the effects of traumatic silence on an individual’s sense of familial history and identity; the tensions between individual experience and familial/cultural narratives; the role of documentary and objectified evidence in stimulating historical enquiry; the interplay between absence and creative invention required by historical lacunae; and, finally, the ethical implications and obligations highlighted by this experience.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAliki Varvogli (Supervisor) & Golnar Nabizadeh (Supervisor)

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