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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


Victims, Perpetrators, and Implicated Subjects: The Effects of Trauma in Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer and Toni Morrison's Beloved


This thesis begins by introducing literary trauma theory and the debates about the ethics of representing the perpetrator perspective. I address these debates by turning to two novels that complicate the dichotomy of “victim” and “perpetrator” that can be found in most works of trauma literature. Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer (1996) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)— novels that take up the experience of Native peoples and the effects of slavery, respectively— shed light on the various kinds of trauma that led some of the victims depicted in the novels to become perpetrators themselves. In this essay, I analyze how the novels tackle the question of responsibility for these complicated figures: does their victimhood prevent their culpability as perpetrators of violence? I ultimately argue that the two novels raise and then move away from the question of responsibility of the victims-turned-perpetrators. Instead, they turn the focus towards people who are implicated in the perpetration of trauma in more subtle, non-violent ways. By drawing attention to the “ordinary” participants of the perpetration of trauma who are ignorant of their own implication, the novels demonstrate the colonial/neocolonial attacks that characterize the past, persist into the present, and threaten the future.

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