Elizabeth Weston, Western Kentucky University
This essay explores how an awareness of trauma theory can transform the experience of reading into an opportunity to bear witness to the cultural contexts and individual traumas that can underlie a narrative, especially a narrative of development that involves deterioration instead of growth and self-actualization. By approaching Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy in this way, this article uncovers the forces that limit Caithleen, the trilogy’s main character: childhood trauma in her family, the difficulties presented by the rural Irish cultural context, the fantasy of heterosexual romance as a salve and supplement for childhood wounds, and the relative dearth of options and social support. These factors—not a personal failure to overcome what are in fact almost insurmountable obstacles—explain Caithleen’s deterioration and collapse of self. Rather than being cause for frustration with her disempowerment, her fate is a call for greater concern over the conditions that caused—and continue to cause—lifelong suffering for women in particular.