The Indivisibility of Change: The Challenge of Trauma to the Genre of Coming-of-Age Narratives

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Author: Nicole Frey Buechel, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Email: nfrey@es.uzh.ch
Published: June 1, 2018
https://doi.org/10.22492/ijah.5.1.02

Citation: Buechel, N. F. (2018). The Indivisibility of Change: The Challenge of Trauma to the Genre of Coming-of-Age Narratives. IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 5(2). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijah.5.1.02


Abstract

Evie Wyld’s novel All the Birds, Singing (2013) draws attention to the interrelation of personal history, trauma narratives, and coming-of-age stories. Herein, Wyld’s novel will be analysed with reference to two bodies of theory: Bergson’s model of the “indivisibility of change” (p. 263), which re-conceptualizes the past as part of a “perpetual present” (p. 262), and Pederson’s revised literary theory of trauma, which deviates from crucial tenets of traditional literary trauma studies. Due to the novel’s unconventional structure of a backward-moving narrative strand interlocked with a forward-moving one, the crisis the narrator experienced in adolescence moves centre stage, which shows that, in the case of trauma, coming-of-age requires a continual negotiating of this experience. The novel challenges “strategically grim” coming-of-age narratives that represent trauma merely “as part of a narrative of the young protagonist’s redemption or maturation,” so that “resolution occurs as a matter of narrative convention […]” (Gilmore and Marshall, p. 23). All the Birds, Singing demonstrates that the painstaking processing of a painful personal history in narrative, achieved by establishing a dialogue of voices (and thus of selves), is an essential prerequisite for maturation. Accordingly, the genre of coming-of-age narratives, besides including novels that present a crisis merely as a necessary step on the way to adult life, also needs to incorporate texts documenting the persistence of trauma in a protagonist’s life.

Keywords

coming-of-age narrative, genre, trauma, literary trauma theory