'The Blessed of the Earth': Trauma, Transformation, and the Near-Death Experience in Contemporary Ethnic American Women's Novels

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 1-1-2009


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Magali Cornier Michael

Committee Member

Laura Callanan

Committee Member

Kathy Glass


near-death experiences, Ana Castillo, Nora Okja Keller, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Linda Hogan, interconnection


This study examines the phenomenon of the near-death experience (NDE) as it appears in the work of contemporary ethnic American women novelists in the United States. I argue that Nora Okja Keller's Comfort Woman (1997), Linda Hogan's People of the Whale (2008), Ana Castillo's So Far From God (1993), and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Queen of Dreams (2004) use the concept of the NDE to engage with the issues of trauma, history, and U.S. national identity at the turn of the twenty-first century. Examining the intersections between history, trauma, and transformation through a complex theoretical framework that places feminism, cultural studies, critical race and border theory, trauma theory, and the concept of the NDE into dialogue, I argue that focusing on survival of bodily death makes possible a wide range of sociohistorical, cultural, epistemological, and spiritual perspectives from which to reimagine American national identity. This range of perspectives pays close attention to various cultures' abilities to survive traumatic histories through relying on traditional ethnic as well as mainstream Euramerican worldviews. Each novel's near-death narrative relies on a different American ethno-spiritual tradition and historical experience with trauma in its location of the border spaces of the afterworld as key to reimagining U.S. national identity and history and to revising U.S. history. Through this process of reimagination and revision, the novels articulate the need for the nation to move beyond established constructs of racial/ethnic, gender, and national identity and dominant social and institutional structures that rely on and perpetuate such constructs. Moreover, the beyond of the afterworld plays a key in role reawakening a sense of spirituality that is key to changing America's focus from selfishness, greed, and socioeconomic mobility and success to responsibility, caring, and compassion. The novels present a wide range of innovative survival-based narratives, redefinitions of trauma, and revisions of history that, while they are grounded in racial/ethnic and culturally specific contexts, nevertheless offer similar positions on human interconnectedness, power and social responsibility, and the need to question and ultimately break from divisive conceptualizations of race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin.





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