During the 1990s, the concept of trauma entered the American cultural spotlight and found its place in the spheres of "psychoanalysis, psychiatry, sociology, and even literature," as Cathy Caruth writes in the book Trauma and Experience: Explorations in Memory. The public interest in the literature of this issue became apparent when autobiographical works focusing on a traumatic experience, such as Angela's Ashes, My Sergei: A Love Story, and Tuesdays with Morrie, reached and stayed on national bestseller charts throughout the decade. In her autobiography dedicated to her daughter, Allende finds an outlet for at least some of her traumatic symptoms by recording them in her writing and in the process creates a document that testifies to her pain and survival.
The symptoms of trauma, as outlined by Caruth, are the following: intense personal suffering, avoidance or delay in emotional response that is too overwhelming to be experienced all at once, repetition and reliving of the experience in an attempt to recapture it, and the sufferer's becoming possessed by the overwhelming event. Underlying these symptoms is the sufferer's sense of fragmentation, disorientation in space and time, an apparently irrational desire to hang onto the trauma as a definition of self, and, if it is a trauma of loss, to retain a kind of memorial to the deceased within oneself. In her autobiography dedicated to her daughter, Allende finds an outlet for at least some of her traumatic symptoms by recording them in her writing and in the process creates a document that testifies to her pain and survival.
Allende exhibits several traumatic symptoms as she writes Paula; the two story line threads (of the narrator's past and of her daughter's present) reflect the return of old traumas from her life. The most obvious traumatic event--the one that propels her into writing the book in the first place--is Paula's sudden tragic illness and the deterioration of her condition while she is in a coma. Allende's response of beginning a letter to her daughter can be seen as a form of avoidance of pain; in the beginning of the book, as she introduces the agonizing circumstances of her writing, she states: "I plunge into these pages in an irrational attempt to overcome my terror."
Allende's choice of the book's content also speaks of her need to escape the painful present as she reverts to memory and returns to the past--far from Paula's imminent tragedy. By writing of her own past, not exclusively Paula's, Allende signifies her desire to find self-affirmation outside her suffering as well as to remove herself from...