Representations of girlhood trauma in Aotearoa, New Zealand literature written by women
In “Representations of Girlhood Trauma in Aotearoa New Zealand Literature Written by Women”, I investigate the way literary genres affect trauma-telling and how culturally sensitive forms of trauma-reading allow girl trauma-tellers to be heard and not re-traumatised by a patriarchal and colonial interpretation of their pain. I analyse about twenty texts by women writers of diverse ethnic descents, encompassing Aotearoa’s four main ethnic groups (Pākehā [also called European New Zealanders], Māori, Asian, and Pasifika), to illustrate New Zealand’s contemporary multiculturalism and multilingualism ‒ an approach which contests a Western-imported, male-dominated, and Freudian-inspired reading of minorities’ cultural traumas. Following Dominick LaCapra’s theory, I argue that the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840 can be understood as a foundational trauma for the Indigenous people of Aotearoa. This document is at the root of their intergenerational cultural trauma as it led to massive land confiscation, the loss of their sovereignty, and their forced assimilation into a Western way of life. As New Zealand is still a settler colony today, women writers employ feminist and – especially when they are of non-Pākehā descent – decolonial trauma-telling devices to formulate traumatic narratives which otherwise would remain unspeakable. The five chapters of the thesis are each dedicated to a literary genre: life writing, poetry, fictional diaries and the epistolary mode, the female Bildungsroman, and young adult fiction. To analyse the interpersonal, intergenerational, transgenerational, and/or vicarious forms of girlhood trauma expressed in the corpus, I create a dialogue between the literary field of Trauma Studies founded at Yale University in the 1990s and four New Zealand-based trauma-reading traditions: Mason Durie’s theory of te whare tapa whā (the four-walled house) which is a holistic approach to Māori health as physical, mental, spiritual, and familial health are intertwined; David Epston’s and Michael White’s research on Narrative Therapy; Charles Waldegrave’s and Kiwi Tamasese’s work on Just Therapy; as well as Linda and Mark Kopua’s storytelling practices during Mahi a atua (healing with ancestors) sessions.