Literary Expressions of Trauma

Trauma can be so terrifying or indescribable in ordinary terms that it can be expressed only indirectly. The arts, with their use of symbolic, disguised, or nonverbal language, can therefore express some very powerful images of trauma. This entry explores the expression of traumatic experiences in literature, covering representative examples of different types of trauma, historical periods and locations, and the therapeutic uses of these expressions.

An early and very influential depiction of trauma was from the medieval poet Dante Alighieri, who vividly described the realms of Hell and Purgatory in The Divine Comedy. Other notable descriptions come from Samuel Pepys's account of the catastrophic 1666 London fire and Arthur Koestler's description of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s in his novel Darkness at Noon. A ...

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