Ghosts in the Gloom: Encountering the Specter of Memory in Heinemann, O'Brien, and Ninh
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The danger of buried trauma in the subconscious is that it often surfaces to haunt the individual. Disturbing memory that has been excluded from that of the collective (the cultural consciousness) acts as a ghost. In literature of the Vietnam War, the ghost represents that problematic of traumatic memory and its degenerative effects on the subject. The purpose of this thesis is to interrogate a select number of fictive texts that treat the Vietnam War. A dedicated effort to illuminate key thematic features that distinguish these texts promises to enhance understanding of contemporary war literature (as seen from authors such as Klay and Gallagher) and aid in the growth of war-time veterans beyond the grasp of the traumatic memory. In the assessment of each text, several key themes are explored: the dissolution of the traumatic memory within the subject as something akin to the ghost; the role of the ghost as both a power for narrative development and a means of healing through its banishment; and finally, the threat that the ghost may lead to the infinite possibility that traps the storyteller in a cycle of repression and lies. This work seeks not only to demonstrate the significance of the literary ghost but also to show its potential application to literal recovery from psychological trauma brought on by war-time experience.
Bizzell, Matthew James (2016). Ghosts in the Gloom: Encountering the Specter of Memory in Heinemann, O'Brien, and Ninh. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from