Linking Personal Trauma of Sexual Violence with Collective Trauma of the Holocaust in D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel

Author: Md Abu Shahid Abdullah (East West University, Bangladesh)
Speaker: Md Abu Shahid Abdullah
Topic: Language, Gender, Sexuality
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel focuses on the violent sexual fantasies of the protagonist Lisa Erdman. These fantasies result in her sexual assault, the bayonet rape, and her tragic death at the hand of Nazis in the ravine of Babi Yar where she represents an estimated number of 34,000 Jews who also lost their lives. By revealing Lisa‘s sexual fantasies on the one hand and considering her one of the thousands of victims of the Babi Yar on the other hand, Thomas skillfully relates her personal trauma with the collective trauma of the Holocaust. In dealing with the Holocaust, Thomas employs the magical realist narrative which enables him to draw a parallel between trauma and grotesque bodily metaphors. Magical realism in the novel is also associated with witnesses and survivors’ desire and necessity to tell stories. The magical realist narrative enables Lisa to utter unspeakable and unknown stories of her victimisation to outside world by allowing her a voice, and thus provides a marginalised version of history. Most importantly, although she dies, it also saves her from being vanished into historical oblivion. In contrast to the established understanding of trauma as the suffering of victims from a past traumatic event, Lisa‘s bizarre traumatic symptoms occur from a yet-to-be experienced traumatic future. By using magical realism, grotesque realism and weird bodily fantasy, Thomas employs a concept of future trauma where the protagonist’s pain in pelvic and respiratory areas actually refers to her future violence and physical sufferings during the Holocaust.

Keywords: magical realism, grotesque realism, the Holocaust, sexual violence