Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Meena Alexander

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


My project is an exploration of trauma-based meaning-making practices and reader response across a variety of sites. By teasing out some of the complex connections among trauma, narrative, and audience that may occur in spaces ranging from non-linear memoir to courtroom testimony to the writing classroom, I engage with the inherently dialogic nature of making meaning from trauma, and examine some of the ways in which women who engage in recursive, embodied rhetorical practices can productively disrupt conventional expectations of the function of trauma narratives. Chapter One examines the formal, linguistic, and philosophical choices made by women memoirists who challenge the parameters of traditional narrative structure in order to forge their own paths through contested issues of history, memory, and the body. Chapter Two focuses on the public discourses surrounding stories of sexual assault, using reader response theory to explore the possibilities available to witnesses who wish to resist the ways in which the rhetoric of the courtroom can circumscribe responses to sexual assault narratives in multiple forms, from memoir to testimony to mainstream media coverage. Chapter Three explores the interpretive possibilities for readers of trauma based narrative offered by non-oedipal psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, who meaningfully revised Freud's analytic approach to trauma victims by stressing the need for empathy and active witnessing on behalf of the analyst. Chapter Four delves into the realm of pedagogy, seeking to demonstrate through the use of narrative practice some of the ways in which assignment design and modes of response can aid in facilitating ethical and empathetic pedagogical interactions that may resonate both in and beyond the composition classroom. I am ultimately invested in illuminating the role that both genre and the body have in the construction of non-linear trauma narratives, as well as the role community plays in re-thinking the linear reading practices often privileged in response to such narratives in light of the work of innovative writers and theorists who challenge such practices in their own projects.