International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Psychological Trauma and World Literature

Posted 1 December 2006 in StressPoints by Toyomi Goto, The Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Studies, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan

Passages from literature can capture poignant truths about trauma and its survivors which might be difficult to glean from years of clinical or research work. ISTSS Members are invited to share a favorite passage or quote from literature that may not be well known, but which offers insight about the psychological effects of trauma or paths of healing. Send submissions to Harold Kudler and Howard Lipke.

This issue's submission comes from ISTSS member Toyomi Goto:

Junichiro Tanizaki started writing "The Makioka Sisters" in 1942 as a serialized novel. Although the Japanese Department of War banned this novel only 6 months into his writing, he continued his work and secretly completed it in 1948. The English translation (by E. G. Seidensticker) was published in 1957 by Alfred A. Knopf.
Tanizaki's account of a terrible flood and its aftermath clearly illustrates intense and often overlooked responses characteristic of trauma survivors. Here is one example:  

"Two or three days later there was a light shower, and she started up in terror at the sound of the rain on the roof. She had never before thought much about rain, but a new fear had taken root in her heart. When it began raining one night she lay waiting for the flood until morning." (p. 199) 

The flooding episode in the novel was based on a deluge which occurred in 1938 in the Kobe-Osaka area, where "The Makioka Sisters" is set. The flooding and landslides followed a week of heavy rain, and resulted in 160,000 damaged houses and approximately 700 deaths.  

Tanizaki himself was living close to the affected area at the time of the flood, although his own house was not damaged. According to the author, in order to write the flooding scenes, he researched the damaged areas and examined essays written by middle school students who had been in the midst of the disaster. M. Wada (in a 1982 article, published in The Raonshu/Kobe University), who had discovered the students' essays in used book stores, indicated that Tanizaki's flooding descriptions derived from a combination of parts of 15 essays and that Tanizaki also included some fictional elements in his novel. It is not clear form Wada's article whether the description excerpted above was cited from the students' essays or was added by Tanizaki.