THE DOUBLE WOUND: SHAME AND TRAUMA IN JOY KOGAWA’S OBASAN

in Sexed Sentiments
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Joy Kogowa’s Obasan (1981) is a ‘novel of memory’: set in the early 1970s, it revisits the history of the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War Two, through the fragmented memories of its central protagonist, Naomi Nakane. This chapter focuses on the novel’s exploration of silence, trauma and the ‘unspeakable’ via a consideration of the emotional work of shame in the novel. Shame has an interesting relationship to traumatic memory in Obasan: it renders certain events unspeakable, while at the same time ‘intensifying’ the memory of those same events by burning them into the subject’s skin. I argue that shame is presented in Obasan as an inevitable, and perhaps inescapable, aspect of the formation of subjectivity; but that it also operates in the stigmatising of certain (gendered and racialised) identities. Finally, examining the close relationship between shame, trauma, and the book-body in Obasan, I suggest that the novel’s motifs of bodily intimacy offer one means of restoring the subject to a shame-free existence, in which the wounds of memory and trauma may finally be healed.

Sexed Sentiments

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender and Emotion

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