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The Rage Within Trauma
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- Chirag Mehta
- Trauma and Literature
- Prof. Martin J. Gliserman
- 5 May, 2003
- Grade: B+
The Rage Within Trauma
Traumatic events initially hit the victim hard, causing shock and grief, overwhelming their senses, and disrupting their emotional balance. With time, the initial shock wears off and recovery can be expected after a descent into mourning. However, "resistance to mourning can take on numerous disguises," as Judith Herman points out, thwarting recovery (Herman, 189). This "resistance to mourning" plagues the victim by assuming the form of self-destructive and debilitating psychoses like anhedonia, depression, intense irritability, and extremely volatile anger. While anhedonia, depression, guilt, and grief are passive reflexes to trauma, sometimes taking months and years to affect the discourse of the victim’s life, anger is a relatively active reaction, afflicting the victim’s personal and social life tremendously with each eruption. Akin to a volcano, anger may lie dormant within the victims for long periods but eventually becomes an integral part of their personality. Since "the patient’s present, daily experience is usually rich in clues to dissociated past memories," we shall attempt herein to analyze how anger manifests itself within the victim in the long run, that is, study how a symptom becomes a character trait (Herman, 185).
Anger is a primeval bestial emotion, varying not much in appearance from an irked lioness to a disgruntled customer put on hold for half an hour. It is in fact a very intrinsic and uncontrollably spontaneous reaction to being insulted, cheated, rejected, or pressured. It is only when anger transcends the common "range of human experience" that the patient is advised to go under some form of anger management (Brown - Caruth, 100).
"There is explosive and implosive anger. Explosive anger is the guy in the supermarket yelling at the cashier for not taking his coupons. Implosive anger is the cashier meekly submitting to his abuse - until one day he calmly shoots everyone in the store."
- Jack Nicholson as Dr. Buddy Rydell in Anger Management (2003).
Yet she could pretend to be calm most of the time because she had "thought about it for years" (Smiley, 207). Her "resistance to mourning", in the guise of her pretentious impassiveness for decades, had nevertheless corroded her mind, so much so that she could calmly acknowledge that "The more pissed off I am, the better I feel" (Smiley, 207). She never had second thoughts about speaking her mind; no matter where she was and who her audience was. Even amidst all other villagers in her church, Rose cried out, "Daddy just shut up. This has gone far enough" (Smiley, 236). She was a stifled victim of Larry Cook’s carnal desires and expressing her anger seemed to be the only way to liberate herself, after failing to fulfill her "fantasy of revenge" and "fantasy of compensation" (Herman, 190). Rose could not recover from the trauma of her abuse primarily because "the struggle for compensation ties the patient’s fate to that of the perpetrator and holds her recovery hostage to his whims" (Herman, 190). Here is a clear-cut case of a trauma victim, who is publicly angry, not ashamed of being a victim anymore after submissively being one for years, and will strive to avenge her perpetrator at all costs, even though it might bring her further grief.
Explosive anger can also manifest itself in private, hidden from the world’s critical eye. Prof. Gluck in A. L. Kennedy’s Original Bliss is a prime specimen of a trauma victim whose frustration and emotional instability bursts out in the middle of the night, paralyzing his sense of decency with perverse sexual profanation. Unlike Rose, due to the death of his father, he has no fantasies of revenge or compensation. His only cathartic discharge is fuelling his clandestine addiction to pornography. It is not evident at first that he is angry at all, not in the least due to his childhood abuse. However, when he calls Mrs. Helen Brindle in the midst of the night, after having a few drinks, he shamefully confides in her that he is severely addicted to pornography - "I am sorry, but, I have a picture here of a woman with two men inside her" (Kennedy, 92). Unable to express anger openly like Rose from A Thousand Acres, Gluck shelters himself under actions that overburden him with guilt. This way, he can be angry with himself for willingly doing something the society deems immoral. He is victimizing himself because despite being the recipient of the guilt, this time he is in power - he controls how much trauma he can inflict, albeit upon himself. Trauma victims often don’t understand the way they act and he admits, "I don’t know why I’m doing this. I shouldn’t, but I will" (Kennedy, 92).
However, it is not uncommon for victims to construct a "resistance to mourning" around themselves, by hiding their trauma, and more so, their coping mechanisms. Earlier that night he explained to Mrs. Brindle that "We’re looking at a group of men who make themselves almost incapable of sustaining relationships with other human beings in the real world... De-conditioning can help them to an extent, but they need something better than that. I hope to find that better something" (Kennedy, 83). He told her everything except that by "them" he meant "me". In a way, he dissociated himself from the trauma when subjected to public scrutiny and resultantly, felt even more compelled to vent out his guilt, of being a victim and hiding behind a facade of purity, to Mrs. Brindle after he was inebriated later that night. Gluck is a trauma victim whose failure to vent out his anger has left him socially inept, unconditionally self-loathing, and shattering with guilt every time he found himself alone.
The ill effects of anger cannot be annulled, even if the causes are ignored, rejected, forgotten, or simply unknown. Implosive anger, rejected deliberately or ignored trivially, eventually creeps upon the victim after laying dormant for years and decades. Virginia Cook, a childless incest survivor and sister of Rose Cook, in A Thousand Acres, has somehow no recollection of multiple acts of rape by her father during her teenage years. Even after Rose confesses to observing their dad go into Ginny’s room many-a-night decades ago, Ginny refuses to believe that she had been raped. It was only after she lay down on her old bed that she had flashes from the past, so disturbing and shocking that "That was the only memory I could endure before I jumped out of the bed with a cry" (Smiley, 247). Her powerlessness to endure and realize her trauma had always made her take the easy way out - escape into a world of compliance, subservience, and subhuman docility. Her submissiveness can be understood by examining Dori Laub’s views on "The Secret Order." He states, "As ‘subhumans,’ a position they have accepted and assumed as their identity by virtue of their contamination by the ‘secret order,’ they have no right to speak up or protest" (Laub - Caruth, 67). This is nowhere more evident, than when Ginny complained to her dad, "I don’t think you think about anything from our point of view." Her mildly accusatory statement was furiously replied to by her dad with, "I bust my butt working all my life... and you think I should be stopping all the time wondering about your, what did you call it, your ‘point of view’?" (Smiley, 188). In the end, she sighs, "When my father asserted his point of view, mine vanished. Not even I could remember it" (Smiley, 190).
After being treated like his domestic and sex slave for years, Ginny developed a permanent inferiority complex and consequently sought to fulfill his every whim obediently, as if he deserved to be pleased. The night Larry went over to Ginny’s house for dinner, she bid him good night afterwards by, "Call me if you need anything. It’d be nice if you’d stay," and thought to herself, "I always said this, and he never actually answered, but I was given to believe that he might stay next time" (Smiley, 52). Her belief system was structured around pleasing her father at all costs, and her self-worth was determined by his acceptance of her. Due to her submissive attitude towards him, she let herself be held liable, worthy of blame, and guilty for all his discomforts. Time and again she kept turning, what should have been her rage towards her father, into self-doubt and guilt due to her failure to meet his expectations. Consequences of her acquiescence show up throughout the novel, from the stormy night when she stood mute and meek despite her father calling her a "barren whore," to the time when Rose told her, "That was his goddamned hold over me, Ginny!" (Smiley, 228), she refused to believe her and dethrone her father from the holy position he held in her "subhuman" eyes, by arguing, "I’ve still got to hear what he says" (Smiley, 229). Her refusal to blame her dad for his acts of rape, literally by denying for years that the events took place, created a "resistance to mourning" that she was never able to break through, as long as she lived on the farm, under his shadows. Her implosive anger turned her life into a series of guilt-ridden events that she inadmissibly refused to remorse for, from her childhood rape by Larry and adulterous affair with Jess, to five miscarriages and eventual separation from her husband Ty. In a way, she had become a "cold, flip little bitch" too, except that she was only cold towards her own self and she didn’t fight back like Rose.
Doc Hata, the lead character in Chang-rae Lee’s novel, A Gesture Life, is an oblivious victim of anger that remains silent, unseen, and unknown. With time he has developed his own way of coping with his trauma, signs of which are evident in his every little "gesture." Unlike Rose and Prof. Gluck, he is disillusioned by the "fantasy of forgiveness." Herman observance that "Revolted by the fantasy of revenge, some survivors attempt to bypass their outrage altogether through a fantasy of forgiveness," is perfectly applicable in the analysis of Doc Hata’s personality and behavior (Herman, 189). Despite Mr. Hickey’s libelous accusations at the beginning of the story, Doc Hata comforts his wife that "she shouldn’t worry about my feelings being hurt, for it was obvious her husband was under a terrible strain" (Lee, 11). Even when he cried out to Officer Como to stop harassing his daughter, his demeanor was extremely reserved, almost defensive. Once again, he sought a peaceful, forgiving end to a volatile situation by pleading, "Now please let us end this, Officer. You and I have a good relationship and I don’t wish to see it ruined" (Lee, 91). During a confrontation with him, Sunny charged that "You’re always having to be the ideal partner and colleague," and that he would always "burden with [his] generosity" (Lee, 95). However, as Herman points out, "it is not possible to exorcise the trauma, through either hatred or love," and undoubtedly, no matter how desperately Doc Hata tried to be generous and forgiving, he was unable to erase his memories of K (Herman, 190).
His trauma had buried his anger so deeply within him that it is near impossible to see obvious instances of it. The mere fact that he is never angry or enraged at anyone shows his distressed state of mind. In addition to becoming all-forgiving, he, like Ginny from A Thousand Acres, tries extremely hard to reason with everyone and look at a situation from all points of view. Undeniably this is more of a virtue than a vice. However, Doc Hata takes it to the extreme and ends up suffering the consequences of passive submission, not unlike Ginny. When he meets Sunny at the mall where she works, he has "an impulse to ask about the boy’s father, if he is with them or at least somewhere around, and if it is Lincoln, in fact, but from Sunny’s tone I realize the question is one I should set aside" (Lee, 211). Controlling his spontaneity after reading her body language, he reasons that Sunny is not in a state to answer a question he so passionately wants to ask. While this event did not result in any immediate distress, it was this same approach to dealing with Sunny that resulted in him having no familial bonds with her. He admits that "Sunny had never hidden anything from me, or told me untruths. It was actually mostly a matter of my confronting the issues, simply posing the questions" (Lee, 93). His passive approach at dealing with his anger, trauma, and suffering, had encompassed every aspect of his personality, so much so that he thought twice before asking his adopted daughter whose house she had slept at the night before. The primary difference between Hata’s and Ginny’s trauma is that Ginny later realized that she had suffered and that she was angry, while Hata only recollected what happened in the War but was oblivious to the self-destructive anger and the effects that it had on his psyche. His "resistance to mourning" had turned him incapable of confrontation, unable to stand up for himself and his beliefs, and kept him barricaded within a hollow fortress of righteousness.
Herman declares that "Trauma inevitably brings loss" and "The descent into mourning is at once the most necessary and the most dreaded task of this stage of recovery" (Herman, 188). Moreover, "since mourning is so difficult, resistance to mourning is probably the most common cause of stagnation in the second stage of recovery" (Herman, 189). Anger is just one form of this "resistance to mourning," indisputably an extremely insufferable one. Anhedonia, depression, mania, dementia, and hallucinations are equally, if not more, obstructive to the patient’s long-term recovery. Yet the unfortunate commonness of anger, that is the fact that it is a universal emotion, makes it confounding to discern the anger that is a manifestation of traumatic events from the anger arising from a customer’s mistreatment.