Book chapter
Open access

Of Time and Trauma: The Possibilities for Narrative in Paula Gunn Allen's The Woman Who Owned the Shadows

Published inTransatlantic Voices, Editors Pulitano, E.
PublisherLincoln : University of Nebraska Press
Publication date2007

In the introduction to her 1998 essay, “Contemporary Two-Spirit Identity in the Fiction of Paula Gunn Allen and Beth Brant,” Tara Prince-Hughes observes that for Native American writers the ”struggle for identity has required writers to engage actively and dispute dominant Western fictions of ‘Indianness' and to express the fragmentation experienced by people of mixed ancestry” (9). In this essay, I want to address the way in which Paula Gunn Allen, in The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (1983), actively engages and disputes dominant Western fictions of “trauma” in a Native American context. In a central sequence of episodes in the novel, Allen depicts her protagonist, Ephanie, undergoing western-style therapy in the attempt to heal her alienated condition. Eventually, Ephanie comes to reject psycho-therapy because at the point when she leaves her therapist she finds herself in a more alienated and fragile state than ever. Western approaches to the healing of trauma are powerless to help Ephanie; however, Paula Gunn Allen offers us in this novel not only an alternative vision of healing but also a different way of viewing and understanding trauma itself. This essay considers the contested thematics of trauma, in Paula Gunn Allen's novel, in terms of the treatment of time. The connection between time and trauma is crucial to the Western understanding of trauma presented by influential theorists such as Ruth Leys and Cathy Caruth. I want to use trauma theory to approach the question of the representational capacities of language within the context of a trauma that is both racial and gendered, historical and personal. In particular, I want to question the issue of trauma as characterized by Caruth's concept of “belated temporality” in relation to the ways in which Allen represents the destruction of subjectivity within trauma and the implications of this for the construction of a temporal narrative of self. I want to introduce in this context Allen's insight into an alternative approach to trauma: the idea that in fact trauma is unrepresentable in narrative terms because the destruction of the traumatized “I” renders the linear history of trauma unrecuperable.

  • Paula Gunn Allen
  • Native American Literature
  • Time
  • Temporality
  • Trauma
  • Gender
  • Narrative
Citation (ISO format)
MADSEN, Deborah Lea. Of Time and Trauma: The Possibilities for Narrative in Paula Gunn Allen’s The Woman Who Owned the Shadows. In: Transatlantic Voices. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2007.
Main files (1)
Book chapter (Accepted version)
  • PID : unige:87785

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