Foreign bodies: History and trauma in Flannery O'Connor's 'The Displaced Person'

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In this article the author wishes to suggest that the complex interaction between history and the unconscious in Flannery O'Connor's writing can be addressed by drawing an analogy between the persistance of the unresolved conflicts of the past, and the return of the repressed: the material which is subject to this mechanism of repression and return in O'Connor's fiction is history and its violent disruptions make their imprint on the collective unconscious in the form of trauma. Cathy Caruth suggests that the traumatic event 'is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it. To be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image of event.' In 'The Displaced Person' (1954), a white woman landowner who is acting as a suspicious host to a displaced Polish family in the aftermath of the Second World War suffers the compulsive and intrusive return of impersonal memories of the Holocaust: these take the form of cinematic flashbacks to documentary footage of liberated concentration camps. Moreover, the memory of the Holocaust becomes the screen on which the represses crises of American history, both past and present, find displaced expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


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