Chapter 6 Transformative Shocks: War Trauma in David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones and Sam Shepard’s States of Shock

In: Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations
Aslı Tekinay
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In Sticks and Bones, David Rabe addresses horrors associated with the Vietnam War but taking place out of the battlefield. The play centers on the homecoming of a blinded and guilt-ridden veteran named David, who brings the war home after a traumatic experience during the Vietnam War. Much more than his body and physical vision, his cultural and spiritual vision has changed. David’s eye-opening trauma renders him a stranger to his own family, country and values. It moves beyond sheer apathy, which dominates most homecoming veteran stories in American literature. It instigates a spirit of dissent in contradiction with the mainstream American rhetoric of narcissism that defines the United States in terms of superlatives like the most powerful, the most democratic, the most humanitarian and the most idyllic. The traumatised American warrior cannot adjust to the fantasy world of happy America. Likewise, his all-American family is not willing to accept him as the traumatised victim who accuses them of cruelty. Along similar lines, Sam Shepard’s States of Shock, performed in 1991 after the Gulf War, brings the war home to the United States. The traumatic shock gives birth to a radical transformation in the demented veteran, which may be read as a nihilistic vision ironically resulting from awakening from an unquestioning American narcissism. In both plays, rhetoric of dissent exposes violence, racism, social hypocrisy, and the superficiality of the middle-class values.

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