Publication Date

April 2019


Charles Barber, Robert Conn


English (United States)


This thesis aims to expand definitions of trauma for Guatemalan refugees of La Violencia (1960-1996) who immigrated to the United States. Traditionally, theorists of psychological trauma have created one-size-fits-all diagnoses which fail to capture the contextual details that shape and differentiate individual cases of trauma. There is little existing literature that specifically considers the psychology of Guatemalan refugees of La Violencia in the United States. Therefore, this thesis looks to works of literature for a rich perspective on Guatemalan immigrants’ inner lives and their interactions with the world. I analyze three case studies from a novel (The Tattooed Soldier by Héctor Tobar) and a short story (“War” by María Isabel Álvarez), basing my identification of trauma on evidence of extreme vulnerability resulting from the direct or indirect pressure of social or political forces. In my analysis, I identify support for and challenges to the work of Judith Herman and Bessel van der Kolk, two of the most prominent theorists of psychological trauma. The case studies reveal a need for a deeper discussion of the emotional experience of trauma, greater focus on mental representations of the body, and investigation of how traumatic experiences can become embedded in personality. At the heart of each case study is a profound sense of powerlessness and a loss of self, a sense that the pre-traumatic identity can never be recuperated.



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