The trauma of settler colonialism: Elizabeth Lyall Wilson, The settler colonial family as a site of trauma for women in selected novels by New Zealand women writers, PhD dissertation, University of Otago, 2020


Abstract: This thesis examines the depiction of the settler colonial family as a site of trauma from a female-gendered perspective in selected novels by New Zealand women writers. I argue that women are vulnerable to psychic trauma through their subordinate and marginalized positions in the heteropatriarchal formulation of the settler colonial family and the sociocultural, economic and political structures and norms of settler colonialism. I use the relationships and affective dimensions of family as the lens to examine the ideological and material manifestations of settler colonialism in New Zealand society and culture, focusing on their impact on women.The temporal timespan of the selected novels – The Story of a New Zealand River (1920) by Jane Mander, The Butcher Shop (1926) by Jean Devanny, Wednesday’s Children (1937) by Robin Hyde, The Book of Secrets (1987) by Fiona Kidman, Enemy Territory (1997) by Elspeth Sandys, and Rain (1994) by Kirsty Gunn – demonstrates that settler colonialism is a persistent structure that continues to exert a pervasive influence on the family in the postcolonial period. Each of the novels depicts not only how trauma impacts on an individual woman, but also what it reveals about the interrelationships between trauma experienced in the interpersonal affective intimacies of the family and the broader sociocultural and historical context.I draw on trauma theory to examine the manifestation of traumatic symptomology and sequelae, and to situate the interpersonal locus of individual trauma in its sociocultural and historical context. Structural, non-event-based trauma theories which encompass relational, inter-generational, cumulative and insidious trauma open up ways of exploring the selected novels as trauma narratives. Feminist trauma theorists expand contemporary understandings of trauma through their foregrounding of female experiences of trauma in the interpersonal realm. Their contributions are important for the theoretical frame of my argument that the trauma women experience in the familial locus needs to be understood within its wider context. The novels call attention to the importance of examining how the power relations of the settler colonial family continue to render women vulnerable to psychic trauma.

%d bloggers like this: