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Listening to stories of trauma from a
narrative perspective
Wendy Patterson
Propp’s classic model of narrative1 mapped
onto my model of a trauma narrative2
X liminal zone
Y numbness, madness
restoration of modified
version of equilibrium
narrative meaning-making
1. Propp, V. ([1928]1968). Morphology of the Folktale (trans. L. Scott) Austin: University of Texas Press
2. Patterson, W. (2000). Reading Trauma: Exploring the relationship between narrative and coping.
Unpublished PhD thesis. Nottingham Trent University.
Electronic copy available: [email protected]
1. X liminal zone Y: ‘I was just doing
X when Y’3
equilibrium disturbed/ XY structure
the construction of suddenness
the destruction of agency
the liminal zone
imaginary stories and their evaluative role
the injustice of traumatic experience4
3. Wooffitt, R. (1992) Telling Tales of the Unexpected. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf
4. Janoff-Bulman, R. (1996) Shattered Assumptions. Towards a New Psychology of Trauma. New
York: The Free Press
2. Disequilibrium: numbness,
madness and retraumatisation
metaphor and the dialectic of trauma5
the specificity of the meaning of ‘mad’ behaviour
retraumatisation; XY structure
imaginary stories and the reverse face of history
rendering the experience6
the narrative as testimony to the self who has
survived and as archive of the life lost.
5. Herman, J. L. (1992) Trauma and Recovery. London: Basic Books
6. Ricoeur, P. (1991) Life in Quest of Narrative in D. Wood (ed.) On Paul Ricoeur. Narrative and
Interpretation. London: Routledge
3. Narrative meaning-making
guilt and fighting talk
comparators as evaluative devices7
social- and self-comparisons8
7. Labov, W. (1972) Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular.Oxford:
Basil Blackwell
8. Taylor, S.E., Wood, J.V. and Lichtman, R.R. (1983) It Could Be Worse: Selective Evaluation as a
Response to Victimization. Journal of Social Issues 39(2):19-40
4. Resolutions?
endings are two-fold/Janus faced: an ending
(the outcome or result), and a beginning, the
beginning of a life beyond the trauma is
contained in the ending of the trauma story, and
the ending of the trauma story is contained
within a new beginning, or the promise of a new

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