Bearing Witness to Trauma in Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach
& Kerri Sakamoto's The Electrical Field
Simon Fraser University
we live the wars between nations as personal events.
Sometimes a private drama appears like a war or natural catastrophe.
Sometimes the two wars, the personal and the national, coincide.
individual and cultural recovery [from trauma] is to be possible,"
writes Susan Brison, "survivors' testimonies must be heard"
(27). Traumatic events have devastating effects on lives, and
when inflicted with the sanctioning of nation-states, such events
can have a lasting impact on large groups of people. Most often,
the targets of trauma perpetrated with the explicit permission
or by the direct action of nations are members of cultural groups
already oppressed by racism. In Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach,
for example, each of the characters is trying on some level
to cope with the ongoing effects of the colonization and near-destruction
of the First Nations peoples in Canada. Similarly, the characters
in Kerri Sakamoto's The Electrical Field grapple with
the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World
War. These traumatic events are a part of the history of the
Canadian nation, were sanctioned by the Canadian state, and
yet are routinely made invisible, erased in an attempt to (re)present
a mythical Canada in which such traumas are insignificant, justifiable,
or outright denied.
is another form of trauma, one that is inflicted most often
upon women. It is broadly considered to be a personal (private)
trauma, despite the fact that it is condoned - if not formally,
then informally - under patriarchy. Although many nation
states now have laws prohibiting rape, low rates of prosecution
and relatively lenient punishment of rapists are an indication
of the refusal of nations to acknowledge the full implications
of such acts. Feminists have attempted to shift violence against
women from the realm of private trauma to the public sphere,
pursuing acknowledgement of men's violence against women as
a systematic form of oppression. Both Monkey Beach and
The Electrical Field include representations of acts
of violence against women, and the ways in which these personal
(private) traumas intersect and overlap with the national
(public) traumas of colonization and internment show
us much about the relationship between patriarchal and national
of Colonization: National (Public) Trauma in Monkey Beach
people of Canada's First Nations have been hard-pressed to convince
the Canadian public of the lasting impact of the trauma of colonization.
One of the greatest myths perpetuated by the Canadian state
is a picture of Canada as historically having been a vast, empty
space awaiting discovery by early explorers. In order to gloss
over the horrific and violent displacement of First Nations
peoples from the lands they were the first to inhabit, and from
the social and cultural structures they had developed, the myth-making
apparatus had to create a lasting image of a land with 'nothing'
on it. And in order to equate First Nations peoples and cultures
with this ‘nothingness,' it became necessary to represent them
as 'backwards' cultures that might pose a threat to the 'rightness'
of the culture of the colonizers. As is pointed out so vividly
in Beatrice Culleton Mosioner's novel, In Search of April
Raintree, history books used in school classrooms across
the country paint a picture of "how the Indians scalped, tortured,
and massacred brave white explorers and missionaries" (53).
When she is told that the books are beyond reproach because
they contain 'history,' Cheryl Raintree insists: "your history
books don't say how the white people destroyed the Indian way
of life. That's all you white people can do is teach a bunch
of lies to cover your own tracks!" (54). In a scene strikingly
similar, Lisamarie in Monkey Beach is angered at being forced
to read from a book that says Indians had "killed and eaten
people as religious sacrifices." "But it's all lies!" she protests
(68-9). Both Cheryl and Lisa are punished by their schools--significant
players in the myth-making apparatus--or their refusal to accept
the 'unquestionable truths' of history.
widespread racism of dominant (white) culture in Canada is perhaps
the most pervasive remnant of the colonization of First Nations
peoples. As explained by Stamm & Stamm, Native North Americans
inherit a "legacy filled with cultural and generational trauma
brought on by centuries of natural disasters, racism, oppression,
warfare, and catastrophic disease" (49-50). None of the characters
in Monkey Beach has entirely escaped the impact of this
legacy. Mick and Trudy, who were forced into residential schools
as children, are the characters most impacted by the trauma
of colonization, at least among those still living. As Trudy's
daughter explains to Lisamarie: "You're really lucky that your
dad was too young to go to rez school... Just Mick and my mom
went, and it fucked them up" (254). Trudy's way of coping with
the trauma of residential school becomes alcoholic oblivion,
while Mick rebels against white hegemony by joining the American
Indian Movement (AIM) and attempting to fight back. The trauma
of the residential schools has left the two in limbo, no longer
sure of where they belong, which is not surprising since the
purpose of the schools was to teach them to integrate fully
into white society and scorn their families, culture, and language.
Thus Mick and Trudy, never fully able to resolve this trauma,
fluctuate back and forth between Kitamaat, a small native village
in northern British Columbia, and white society.
those who remain in Kitamaat are not impervious to racism either.
Lisa recalls becoming a summer attraction for tourists, who
would sometimes take photographs of the Native children. First
Nations people have an important symbolic role in the mythical
construction of 'Canada,' so much so that in Northern communities--their
'natural habitat'--it is not surprising that tourists pursuing
an 'authentic' Canadian experience would want to seek out, observe,
and photograph residents of Kitamaat. As Himani Bannerji explains,
First Nations peoples' "presence as the absent signifiers within
Canadian national politics works at all times as a bedrock of
its national definitional project" (92). When Lisa wants to
know what happened to the old village near Kemano, her mother
tells her "most of the people died," but refuses to go into
more detail about the racist underpinnings of the colonialism
which destroyed the village and its people years earlier (100).
And when Lisa is still quite young she starts to realize that
the Haisla language is getting lost, replaced by the English
that everyone in the village now speaks.
are several personal (private) traumas in Monkey Beach,
including the deaths of Mick & Ma-ma-oo, the rape of Lisa, and
the loss of Jimmy, Lisa's brother. These private traumas all
overlap on some level with the large-scale, public trauma of
injustice and racism towards First Nations people – in fact,
the public trauma seems to shape the way and the extent to which
the private traumas impact those that survive them. To take
another example from Mosionier's In Search of April Raintree,
April makes the following observation while trying to make some
sense out of her experience of being raped: "What a way to get
into the papers, as a victim. Another victim of being native.
No matter how hard I tried, I would always be forced into the
silly petty things that concerned native life" (167). Although
there is nothing to directly connect the experience of rape
with being native, April feels that her native-ness is at the
core of her victimization.
the cultural trauma of oppression can be seen not only as increasing
the impact of private traumas, but also as making one more susceptible
to them. It is essential, however, that in the process of identifying
the intersection of the large-scale trauma of oppression and
the private traumas of native people we do not scapegoat the
culture as the cause of the private traumas. As Stamm & Stamm
elaborate: "The prevalence of problems is so high [in First
Nations communities] it is easy to assume that these problems
arise from the culture itself." As an alternative, they suggest
locating the problem in an understanding that "interfamilial
trauma histories from centuries of cultural trauma create high
risk situations," placing the burden of responsibility on the
legacy of racism as opposed to the culture (66).
(Private) Trauma in Monkey Beach
are many deaths in Monkey Beach. The ones that affect
Lisamarie the most are those of Mick & Ma-ma-oo, her grandmother.
Lisa has premonitions, in the form of a little man with red
hair, before Mick's death and Ma-ma-oo's first heart attack.
Once she discovers that these visits are warnings, Lisa starts
to feel tremendous guilt when she is unable to do anything to
save her loved ones, especially Ma-ma-oo (294). Her cultural
gift, passed to her from her mother's side of the family, thus
greatly alters Lisa's experience of death. After she banishes
the little man, turning her back on her gift, Lisa gets a glimpse
of what it is like to experience trauma without a warning: "This
is, I thought, what it's like for everybody else. Hello, it's
bad news. Bam" (283). Yet the warnings, and particularly the
feelings of guilt Lisa develops around not being able to save
anyone, also make it difficult for Lisa to fully grieve or mourn
her losses, instilling in her instead a sense of anger at her
helplessness. When Ma-ma-oo gives her a picture of Mick over
a year after his death, Lisamarie insists she's "not mourning
any more," to which Ma-ma-oo insightfully responds: "No, you're
still mad" (290).
parents are portrayed throughout the novel as being calm, rational,
and relatively emotionless--so much so that Lisa is surprised
by stories she hears that indicate her parents were at one time
wilder and more impetuous. Having witnessed the impact of the
residential schools on Mick and Trudy, perhaps Al and Gladys
prefer to distance themselves from anything that might remind
them of their cultural heritage and their oppression, whether
it be Mick's activism, Trudy's emotional outbursts, or Gladys'
own ability to see ghosts. Of all the adults, they seem the
most detached from anything associated with First Nations cultures,
and Lisa learns about the history of her people primarily from
Ma-ma-oo and Mick. Al and Gladys seem to want to avoid ‘rocking
the boat,' and show dismay whenever Lisa speaks up for herself
or her people.
it might be tempting to judge Al and Gladys for betraying on
their people, we must also recognize that their desire to remain
relatively invisible is a survival technique, and that those
who don't employ this technique--Mick, Mick's wife, even Ma-ma-oo--die.
As Susan Brison argues, perhaps the most significant goal of
the survivor of trauma should be simply "to endure," and Al
and Gladys do just that (31). Their survival is problematic,
however, in the context of the novel; Gladys and Al are the
sort of oppressed people that a white readership is comfortable
with. They fail to pose the kind of threat to white privilege
and sense of entitlement that Mick does. On one hand we can
read Robinson's decision to have them survive, while Mick dies,
as an attempt to reflect reality. On the other hand, a politically
counter-hegemonic reading of the text frusterated by her decision
to leave a white audience with those characters whose survival
does little to challenge our comfort.
has inherited Mick's sense of injustice, however, and is filled
with a growing rage as she begins to learn what it means to
be native and female in a country made for men and white people.
After she is nearly assaulted by a group of young white men
in Terrace, Lisa is shocked to find that she is the one who
receives scolding from others, for defending herself by talking
back. When her aunt Trudy tells her that "no one would have
cared" if she'd been raped or killed, we know implicitly that
she is actually saying no one in authority would have cared,
meaning no one white and male – no policemen, no judges. Trudy
describes what happened in the residential schools to try to
force Lisa to understand why there would not have been any justice
for her if those boys had attacked her: "there were tons of
priests in the residential schools that... 'helped' themselves
to little kids just like you. You look at me and tell me how
many of them got away scot-free" (255). Thus the trauma of the
residential schools, a (now) public trauma suffered communally
as well as individually, becomes equated with the trauma of
rape, normally considered a private trauma.
is targeted for attack by the white boys because her attackers
view her as "a feisty little squaw," less than white, less than
male, and therefore less than human (250). Bannerji argues that
"through the Indian Act ... racist and sexist constructions
of ‘the Indian woman' became both possible and practicable"
(68). When such constructions are encoded in national law, can
we really be surprised when they are taken up in this way and
with such a sense of entitlement by this group of young white
men, the very people the laws were made to benefit? Thus this
scene from Monkey Beach clearly illustrates how intimately
connected some national (public) and personal (private)
traumas can be.
Lisa escapes attack from the white boys, she is shortly after
raped by a native boy who had been one of her closest friends.
The act is a sharp reminder that women are subject to patriarchal
rule even in communities oppressed by dominant (white) culture.
Lisa does not tell anyone about the rape. Significantly, she
also banishes the little spirit after the rape, asking him "if
you couldn't stop it, what good are you?" (259). Perhaps the
banishment of her most significant cultural gift after the rape
is an indication that Lisa feels betrayed by her culture because
her attacker was ‘one of her own'. She regrets this decision
later, and her guilt over not being able to save Ma-ma-oo because
she turned her back on the spirit that might have warned her
becomes one more reason to feel guilty and ashamed about the
rape and its aftermath.
inability or lack of desire to tell about her rape has a significant
impact on her. As Felman and Laub explain, "the 'not telling'
of the story serves as a perpetuation of its tyranny. The events
become more and more distorted in their silent retention and
pervasively invade and contaminate the survivor's daily life"
(79). Shortly after the rape, Lisa begins sleepwalking, wandering
out of her house at all hours. Her encounters with the spirit
world also increase and intensify and her grades at school spiral
downwards. Eventually, she finds herself in Vancouver, using
alcohol and drugs to cope with and take away her pain. She tells
us there were "two years erased, down the toilet, blotto" –
although her need to numb herself for that long has to do as
much with her grief over Mick and Ma-ma-oo as it does with being
raped (296). When the novel ends, Lisa still has not told anyone
about the rape. In fact, shortly after the rape passage the
event all but disappears from the text, as though Robinson,
fearful of having raised such a controversial issue (the function
of patriarchy in her already-oppressed culture), is eager to
return it to the shadows from which it came. In failing to further
address the impact of the rape on Lisa and the significance
of the fact that she is raped by a native boy, Robinson misses
an opportunity to explore the connection of this personal (private)
trauma to the trauma of colonization. Hence some of Robinson's
work in creating a counter-hegemonic text begins to unravel.
Internment: National (Public) Trauma in The Electrical Field
of the characters in Kerri Sakamoto's The Electrical Field
are impacted by the internment of Japanese Canadians during
the Second World War. Some of the characters were only children
during the internment, while others, like Sachi, were born afterwards,
but none of them have escaped the lasting impact of this large-scale,
public trauma. There has been a great deal of pressure, both
internal and external, on those who survived the camps to remain
silent, or to attempt to forget about their experiences.
characters in Sakamoto's book have all succumbed to this pressure
to remain silent about their experiences of internment, with
the exception of Yano. Yet Yano, the one character who insists
on remembering, is an outcast even among other Japanese Canadians.
As his wife Chisako explains: "All he does is talk about the
war and the camps when they just want to forget. They think
he's crazy, I know" (24). The act of remembering is thus linked
to insanity in the text, while forgetting, at least initially,
is seen as a way of moving on with one's life, of coping with
the past, of staying sane. As the text progresses, however,
these binaries begin to crumble.
Saito, the novel's narrator, is both irritated and alarmed at
Yano's insistence on remembering and seeking redress for their
experiences in the camps. "I had no interest in that kind of
discussion," she tells us, "of things I'd long ago left behind
and made my peace with" (71). In her early conversations with
Yano, Asako is trying to convince us (and herself) that the
camps have made no lingering impact on her life or the lives
of those around her. Her descriptions of Yano near the beginning
of the text portray her conviction that his passionate commitment
to redress is a kind of mania: "It was Yano, the thought of
him, wild, crazy man in the middle of my placid afternoon, riling
me. He was forever ranting about something, raking back his
hair with his dirty fingernails . . . Over and over he’d ask
me about the camps" (5). She considers her own attempts at forgetting
about the camps, shared by her family and her neighbours, to
be the normal, sane thing to do.
Asako's control over her memories of the internment, and her
ability to deny its lasting impact start to slip. She begins
to narrate glimpses of her internal life, of her regular conversations
with and fantasies about her brother Eiji, who died in the camps.
We get bits of information about the internal dialogues she
has regularly: "there I'd be, muttering away to myself or counting
my steps" (107). Slowly, the divide between herself and Yano
starts to dwindle away, leaving Asako feeling less confident
about her sanity: "I shuddered, wondering if I sounded anything
like him with my mutterings: more than a little crazy" (109).
The memories and feelings Asako has worked so hard to suppress
begin to surface, causing her to eventually begin to acknowledge
the ways in which Yano is right about how traumatic the internment
was, and to feel so connected to him that she finds herself
speaking in his own words (284). The last thing Yano says to
Asako is "things would have been different for you too [had
the internment never happened]" and Asako finally acknowledges,
"I know" (302).
the fact that the Canadian state had no right or reason to imprison
Japanese Canadians, most of whom were Canadian citizens, many
Japanese Canadians felt for years afterwards, and perhaps still
feel, as though the internment was somehow their fault. Yano
raises this issue in the novel when he explains to Asako that
Chisako, who was in Japan during the war, "doesn't know what
it feels like to be ashamed to be nihonjin" (94). This feeling
of somehow having provoked the internment--perhaps, as Yano
suggests, because they were "doing too well"--partly explains
the reluctance of Japanese Canadians to seek redress, and the
difficulty Yano has getting people to come to his redress meetings
But attempts to forget the traumatic experience of internment
can also be read as a technique for survival; those who failed
to suppress the memories or to deny the impact of the internment
faced a near-impossible task in continuing to function, to live
day-to-day without being overwhelmed by fear, rage, or grief.
Yano's brother is an example of such a person. Permanently locked
away in a mental hospital, he can no longer stand the sight
"of an Oriental," due, Asako believes, to the intense closeness
forced on all of them by the camps, "those smells, those noises,
those voices" (100). Hence suppression and forgetting, similar
to the behavior of Lisa's parents in Monkey Beach, serve
dual purposes, by assisting invisibility and allowing one to
continue to function without being disabled by emotions. But
something is lost in the act of suppressing and forgetting,
especially in the long term. The survivor fails to move beyond
'surviving,' and while the survival itself is an accomplishment,
the energy expended in forgetting cannot be applied to creative
use or to confront those who caused the trauma.
suppression of emotion that allows continued functioning has
a lasting impact, even on those who did not experience the camps
firsthand, such as Sachi. Frustrated by her parents' inability
to express love for her, indeed by their inability to feel,
Sachi is constantly "thinking too much, feeling too much" (89).
Her lack of an outlet for her frustrations and emotions, combined
with a desire for any attention from her parents, causes Sachi
to lash out by slashing her hands with a knife and by attempting
repeatedly to climb the electrical towers. Confused and angered
by the numbness she senses in the adults around her--in her
parents, in Asako--Sachi continues to enact the trauma brought
on by internment.
the large-scale trauma of internment, The Electrical Field deals
with two personal (private) traumas: Eiji's death and the murder-suicide
of Yano, Chisako, and their children. Both of these events overlap
with the internment, impacting the way they are experienced
and interpreted by those who survive them.
(Private) Trauma in The Electrical Field
novel is nearing its end before we finally learn the details
surrounding the death of Asako's brother, Eiji. We know that
he died in the camps, but the cause is not clear until Asako
brings herself to tell us, although significantly she does not
tell the story out loud. "I could not tell Yano it was me,"
she repeats over and over as she narrates the events surrounding
her brother's death (301). She prefers to let Yano believe that
Eiji died because of the conditions in the camps, instead of
telling him what amounts to her truth: that Eiji died because
she loved him and selfishly wanted his attention, wanted him
to prove his love by rescuing her from the icy water she threw
herself into. The death of the brother that she loved more than
any other person is a significant trauma for Asako. It is obvious
from her continued pining for Eiji, her conversations with his
photograph, and the central place he still possesses in her
life that Asako has not fully grieved the loss of her brother,
nor recovered from its traumatic effects. Through repetition
of the fact that she could not tell anyone about her role in
Eiji's death, the novel asks us to consider the significance
of telling in recovering from trauma, and we are positioned
as witnesses to the testimony that Asako cannot bring herself
to tell anyone else.
is possible that Asako's determination that she is fully responsibility
for Eiji's death may function to support her denial of the impact
of the internment on their lives. If she maintains that she
is fully responsible, she is able to uphold her conviction that
the most significant personal trauma of her life is disconnected
from the national (public) trauma of internment. Perhaps it
is easier to live with this sense of personal responsibility
than to live with the injustice of internment, and the grief,
rage, and despair at her utter lack of control over the event
that an admission of its impact would entail.
deaths of Yano, Chisako, and their children are the traumas
that drive the novel. Asako wants to remain in denial about
Yano's role in the shootings of Chisako and her lover. She is
so adamant about his innocence that we are also left skeptical
about whether or not he is the murderer, until the evidence
becomes irrefutable. Yano's act is supposedly committed out
of passionate fury at his wife's adultery, but there is also
much in the text that links his violence to the traumatic experience
of internment. "Everything was ruined for [Yano], you see,"
Asako explains to the detective investigating the murder, referring
to Yano's inability to put the camps behind him (283). Also,
the man who sells Yano the gun recalls him for the papers as
"an Oriental man, nervous;" his race prevailing as his foremost
feature to a white onlooker (61). Asako describes Yano's "broad,
ugly hands in tight fists of frustration, like Papa's in years
past; he was so angry at himself and the rest of the world"
(66). Thus Yano's anger, like her father's, is linked to their
shared experience of the camps. Not surprisingly, however, newspaper
reports of the murder do not mention Yano's redress activities
– such a public acknowledgement of the internment might spark
sympathy for the murderous man in some readers, raising questions
about who is ultimately responsible for this private trauma.
act of violence that Yano commits cannot be read outside of
its patriarchal underpinnings. His rage is brought on by his
wife's adultery and, although the text does not raise the issue,
it is likely his rage is heightened by the fact that she is
adulterous with a white man, representative of the men who caused
the Japanese Canadians to be imprisoned. Yano kills Chisako
because he feels a sense of entitlement to do so – she is his
wife, his property, and her loyalty is expected. Asako notes
Yano's pride in getting "himself a Japanese girl from Japan"
(92). It is as though Yano's pride in Chisako stems from what
he perceives to be her pure Japanese-ness, untainted by the
Canadian-ness that caused him so much suffering through the
internment. As such, it becomes clear how he could see her affair
with Mr. Spears, a white Canadian, as tainting and therefore
Narratives and Patriarchal/National Myth-Making
Monkey Beach and The Electrical Field implicate
the traumas of patriarchy with the project of national myth-making.
It is the acts of violence directed toward women in both texts
which remind us that the national (public) traumas are
intimately connected to the personal (private) ones –
that traumas inflicted by patriarchy both sustain and overlap
those directed toward cultures, and vice versa. J. Brooks Bouson
describes Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye as a novel that reveals
"how humiliated individuals can temporarily rid themselves of
their shame and humiliation by humiliating others" (211). Both
Monkey Beach and The Electrical Field reveal much the
same thing (although perhaps not as successfully as The Bluest
Eye), thus implicating all of us in the private traumas
through our roles, as members of our society, in the national
(public) traumas of colonization and internment.
are invited to view Yano's act of violence, for example, as
stemming as much from his suffering through the trauma of internment
as from his sense of entitlement to his wife as property, and
this understanding complicates our view of him as solely a victim
of the trauma inflicted by the Canadian state. But the suggestion
that Yano enacts patriarchy as a result of being traumatized
by internment places the national (public) trauma as more significant,
and problematically reinscribes his act of violence against
his wife to the realm of the private.
Robinson reminds us that racial oppression is not the only trauma
suffered by First Nations people through her portrayal of Lisa's
rape by a Native boy and Karaoke's sexual abuse by her cousin,
Josh. Despite the limitations to the portrayal of Lisa's rape,
discussed earlier, the very inclusion of the rape is an indication
that myths of the historicity and 'truth' of patriarchy need
undoing as badly as those of the founding of the Canadian nation
from a landscape that was devoid of people and culture, begging
to be 'discovered.' Thus these acts of violence against women,
condoned under patriarchy, also support the nationalist project
by reducing our sympathy for those men who have suffered a national
(public) trauma such as colonization or internment, unintentionally
reinforcing the position of their oppressors through their commission
of violence. Men oppressed by racism who enact their privilege
under patriarchy therefore unwittingly undermine their project
of confronting racism by aligning themselves with their oppressors.
Similarly, by unintentionally leaving notions of patriarchy
and masculinity untroubled in their novels, both Sakamoto and
Robinson to some degree undermine their project of disrupting
dominant narratives of nation.
Witness to Share the Burden of Pain
is not sufficient for mastering trauma," writes Susan Brison,
"to construct a narrative of it: One must (physically, publicly)
say or write (or paint or film) the narrative, and others must
see or hear it ..." (29). Through the writing and publishing
of their novels, both Eden Robinson and Kerri Sakamoto have
put forth narratives that deal with national (public)
and personal (private) traumas, to be read by an audience
which in the act of reading bears witness to these events. As
Felman and Laub describe it:
specific task of the literary testimony is... to open up in
that belated witness, which the reader now historically becomes,
the imaginative capability of perceiving history – what is
happening to others – in one's own body, with the power of
sight (of insight) usually afforded only by one's immediate
physical involvement. (108)
provide such testimony in the genre of fiction likely enhances
this type of empathic response, for although these novels will
lack, for some readers, the 'authority' assigned to autobiographical
accounts of trauma, it is important to note the unique capacity
of fiction to allow us to enter a story as though it were our
own. Because we recognize that the characters are fictional--that
we are not bearing witness to someone’s actual testimony, but
rather to someone’s imagined or possible/potential testimony--it
is perhaps easier for us to experience their stories in our
own bodies. Both Robinson and Sakamoto's use of first person
narrators facilitates such an experience for readers of their
novels, then, possess the potential to contribute to the recovery
of those that have experienced the traumas these texts address,
just as our role in bearing witness to the traumas by reading
the texts also has the potential to contribute to this recovery.
Judith Herman suggests that "when traumatic events are of human
design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between
victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral
in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides" (7).
In positioning us to 'bear witness' to the traumas raised in
these texts the authors then risk the possibility that we will
side with the perpetrators. As Herman elaborates, it is "tempting
to take the side of the perpetrator," because the perpetrator
asks nothing of us, while the victim asks us to "share the burden
of pain" (7).
readers of Monkey Beach and The Electrical Field may
side with the perpetrators by dismissing the texts, but some
will not. And perhaps the fact that these texts do force us
to take sides, thereby challenging our culture of inaction,
disengagement, and ambivalence, is a significant accomplishment
in and of itself. Further, the texts likely function in the
healing not only of communities but also of individuals, the
authors included. Kateri Damm argues that the writing of First
Nations people is "a means of affirming the cultures, of clarifying
lies, of speaking truth, of resisting oppression, of asserting
identity, of self-empowerment, of survival, of moving beyond
survival. In words, the healing continues" (113).
pondering what contribution those who lack direct experience
of a traumatic event can contribute to the recovery of those
who suffered it, Susan Brison argues that while we might never
be able to fully understand the trauma, "to remain silent in
the aftermath of it would be immoral" (30). She insists that
we must "say 'no'" to such events, "not the 'no' of denial [but]
the 'no' of acknowledgement of what happened and refusal to
let it happen again" (31). Both Monkey Beach and The
Electrical Field seem ultimately to speak such a 'no,' and
will inspire this 'no' to be taken up by some who read the novels,
through positioning us to bear witness to the traumas that occur
therein. As a result, the very presence of these counter-hegemonic
texts contributes to the (dis)integration of Canadian nationalism
and patriarchal myth-making.
H. The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism,
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