Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Lindsey Tucker

Second Committee Member

Ranen Omer-Sherman

Third Committee Member

Tassie Gwilliam

Fourth Committee Member

Irene Oh


"'They Will Invent What They Need to Survive': Narrating Trauma in Contemporary Ethnic American Women's Fiction" analyzes novels by Octavia Butler, Phyllis Alesia Perry, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, and Julia Alvarez through the lens of contemporary theories of trauma, tracing the ways in which survivors struggle to construct narratives that contain and make sense of their experiences. Many of the major theorists of trauma studies emphasize the impossibility of re-capturing traumatic events through creating narratives even while recognizing that the survivor's need to tell her story persists. In my project, however, I explore the ways in which the Kindred, Stigmata, Paradise, The Joy Luck Club, Sula, The Temple of My Familiar, and In the Time of the Butterflies extend theories that insist too readily on the survivor's inability to accurately or completely re-member by depicting characters who, despite difficulty, present narrative accounts of their painful memories. In my own readings of the texts, I emphasize that the complexities highlighted by these texts ultimately foster our deeper understanding of the traumatized subject and her attempts to empower herself through testimony.


Dominican American Literature; Memory; African American Literature; Chinese American Literature