Examining The Effects Of Emotional Trauma English Literature Essay

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The lasting effects of emotional trauma can be exhausting and debilitating. Whether stemming from the loss of a parent or the loss of a possible true love, the pain can be much to bear. This pain is not only felt in the soul of the individual, but it also permeates the air around them, infecting those they love the most. Oskar Schell, the effervescent narrator of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Boudi, a beautifully tragic housewife from Jhumpa Lahiri's short story 'Hell-Heaven,' may be worlds apart culturally, but they definitely share the sting of emotional trauma.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close focuses on nine-year-old Oskar Schell's quest to find out how his father died in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Oskar's experience with death is the focal point of the novel. He is not handling his father's death very well at all, inflicting physical harm in the form of bruises to himself in an attempt to maybe mask or to distract himself from the psychological pain that weighs him down. The lead-like emotions are blatantly holding him down 'because even after everything [he's] still wearing heavy boots,' (Foer 2). He wants to know how his father died, but at the same time he doesn't want to learn the truth. Over and over, Oskar listens to his father's final messages on the answering machine just to hear his voice, even though Oskar hates hearing the hints of panic in them. Oskar's need to escape from the pain is apparent in the way he hides the answering machine: he 'wrapped [it] in [a] scarf', put that in a grocery bag, 'put that in a box, 'put that in another box, and' put that under a bunch of stuff in [his] closet,' (68). It's like he can't win. He's stuck in this limbo between wondering and knowing. He wants to learn, but the pain is holding him back. He also confesses that there was one more phone call. His father called while he was sitting by the phone, and Oskar refused to answer it, most likely because of the desperation on the other end. He was not bold enough to pick up the receiver and hear his father's final words. Losing a parent and dealing with the grief is quite possibly one of the hardest things to cope with, not to mention the regret he must feel for not answering the phone. Oskar is so young, and being exposed to this amount of emotional trauma this early on can only be psychologically detrimental. This is shown when Oskar's psychiatrist, Dr. Fein, has a discussion with his mother. Parts of the conversation heard by Oskar such as 'danger to himself?... I'm concerned about'. absolutely no way' hospitalize my son,' prove that Dr. Fein possibly thinks there is something seriously wrong with Oskar; he is experiencing emotional trauma (207). Despite being the central character in the novel, however, Oskar isn't the only one experiencing the pain.

Oskar's grandmother is in love with a man whom she knows cannot love her back, but she admits that she 'did not need to know if he could love [her. She] needed to know if he could need [her],' (84). How sad it is that she loves him so much that she is willing to give up that love, just to at least be needed by him. 'He pointed at, Nothing. [She] pointed at, Something. Nobody pointed at, I love you,' (184). Then she loses him. '[She] waited for him to come home. Hours passed. And minutes,' but he never came (185). When he does return, though, they are still as detached as before. Unrequited love, and proceeding to single-handedly raise the son of that unrequited love was emotionally scarring for her, not to mention the memories resurfacing upon his return.

Oskar's grandfather has his own demons to battle, though. He refuses to love or even talk after suffering similar terrorist attacks in World War II. He makes his regrets and pain clear when he could 'hear [his] bones straining under the weight of all of the lives [he's] not living,' (113). He 'can't live. [He's] tried and [he] can't. If that sounds simple, it's simple like a mountain is simple,' (135). The results of tragedy and long lost loves are damaging his mind and affecting his will to live.

Oskar's mother remains in the shadows for most of the story. She appears indifferent, especially in her relationship with Oskar, unfortunately. After a heated argument in which Oskar said he would have chosen her to die instead of his father, he ask for forgiveness: ''Mom?' 'Yes.' 'Are you still mad at me?' 'No.' 'Are you sure?' 'I was never mad at you.' 'What were you?' 'Hurt,'' (172). There are moments like these when she shows her emotions, and it is apparent that she is also hurting deep inside.

Although nearly all of Foer's dynamic characters feel emotional pain and trauma at one point or another, Oskar sums it up best. Maybe 'feeling pain is still better than not feeling' at all? (245)

Jhumpa Lahiri's short story 'Hell-Heaven' also deals in the theme of emotional trauma, although not every character displays it. The story tells about the relationship between student Pranab Chakraborty and the narrator Usha's family, who basically adopts Pranab because he is so homesick in Boston when he moves there from India for graduate school. He comes for almost every meal, and falls in love with Usha's mother, Boudi's, Bengali food. In turn, Boudi falls in love with Pranab because 'they had in common all the things she and [her husband] did not,' (Lahiri 64). Usha would find Boudi 'putting up [expensive] new curtains she'd bought at Woolworth's,' trying to impress Pranab, whose 'visits were what [Boudi] looked forward to all day,' (63). Boudi would change into a 'new sari and [comb] her hair in anticipation of his arrival,' and she even planned Bengali meals days in advance (63). Pranab 'brought to [Boudi] the first and' the only pure happiness she ever felt,' (67). This shows what a profound effect Pranab had on her. Since Usha's parents had an arranged marriage, it lacked passion. This makes Boudi all the more vulnerable when Pranab meets an American woman named Deborah, falls in love, and marries her. Usha finds Deborah 'utterly beautiful, but according to [Boudi] she had spots on her face, and her hips were too small,' (68). Boudi, who is obviously jealous, predicts they will divorce. Twenty-three years later, they do divorce and only because Pranab cheats on Deborah with a Bengali woman. Pranab 'used to be so different;' Boudi couldn't 'understand how a person [could] change so suddenly,' describing the difference as 'hell-heaven,' (68). It is then that Deborah admits something that surprises Boudi: 'that all [those] years she had felt hopelessly shut out of a part of Pranab Kaku's life,' namely his Bengali roots (82). Boudi '[assures] Deborah that she blamed her for nothing,' and now, somewhat equal, she adopts Deborah as a quasi-sister, the same way she adopted Pranab in the beginning (82). It is not until the end of the story that Boudi's emotional trauma through it all becomes apparent. She confessed to Usha about her jealousy of decades before, how she had gone through the house and gathered up a multitude of safety pins, attaching the pieces of her sari 'so that no one would be able to pull the garment off her body,' (82). She confessed that she 'took a can of lighter fluid and a box of kitchen matches and stepped outside,' drenching her sari with the fluid (82). Disguised in a trench coat, she stood in the yard for 'nearly an hour' with the box of matches, trying to find the courage to strike one. By the time her husband and daughter got home, 'she was in the kitchen boiling rice for [their] dinner, as if it were any other day,' (83). This near-suicide shows just how deep her feelings and regrets of Pranab, Deborah, and the past are. Her hesitation shows that there is the tiniest bit of hope in her heart. It's very unfortunate that after all the time with Deborah, Pranab leaves her for a Bengali woman, when in fact, Boudi, also Bengali, was there the entire time. 'He was the one totally unanticipated pleasure in her life,' and now he's gone (67). Imagine the pain that put Boudi through. She spent years cooped up in tiny apartment in a country so different from India. Without friends, she spent her time cooking and cleaning for a husband she didn't even love. Usha does divulge that in 'their old age, [her parents] had grown fond of each other,' but it is 'out of habit, if nothing else,' (81). Boudi may have missed out on true love, but there is a little hope for redemption in her marriage.

Emotional trauma is a heavily recurring theme in both of these narratives. From Oskar Schell's experience with death and loss, to Boudi's experience with a severely broken heart, the pain is noticeable throughout. Although the hurt may be much to bear, happiness, or at least contentment, will preside. It may be weeks, months, or twenty-three years, but it does get better. Just ask Boudi.

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