Date of Award

Summer 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Hathaway, Heather

Second Advisor

Zurcher, Amelia

Third Advisor

Ratcliffe, Krista


This dissertation examines representations of sexual-based girlhood trauma in American literature during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Using critical theories in the fields of trauma, feminist, and rhetorical studies, it focuses on the evocative demands rhetorical structures place upon readers' interpretations and completions of plot, which effectively draw readers' attentions to the social conditions surrounding girlhood trauma. Thus, the literature of focus in this dissertation ultimately functions to expose, question, and undermine oppressive cultural constructs that facilitate the psychic and physical traumas of fictional characters. Equally important is that this study demonstrates the alignment between narrative strategies and sociological trauma theories, and, thus, demonstrates the value of literature in analyzing and understanding the social phenomenon of girlhood trauma.

Specifically, Chapter Two examines how unstable irony functions to expose characters' (and readers') ignorant and active complicity in relation to gender-based violence in the short stories "Good Girl," "Parts," and "Proof of God" from Holly Goddard Jones's collection Girl Trouble. I argue that the use of irony in these interrelated stories is intended to show 1) how almost all members of a community are complicit participants in girlhood trauma, and 2) the dynamics by which girlhood trauma is linked to greater social trauma. Focusing on Joyce Carol Oates's "The Girl" and Sandra Cisneros's "One Holy Night," Chapter Three examines ambiguity as a rhetorical tool for exposing the damaging consequences of culturally accepted microaggressions on young girls' self-concepts. I argue that the ambiguity in these stories functions to reveal the girls' internalizations of microaggressions as a facilitating factor in their victimization. Chapter Four examines modes of rhetorical silence in Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl," Annie John, Lucy, and The Autobiography of My Mother. In this chapter, I analyze Kincaid's use of omission, voice, and fragmentation to show that these rhetorical moves convey the pain of trauma that cannot be spoken. I argue that Kincaid's use of these moves triggers readers' vicarious realizations of the protagonists' traumas.