What is Trauma? Karen Onderko, a Director of Research and Education, explains what trauma means in her article “What is Trauma?”. “Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.” Now when looking at trauma, the authors Toni Morrison and Percival Everett have different perspectives but at the same time, have characters that connect. Those characters would have the ability to comfort and confront one another during their hard times.
In Zulus By Percival Everett, has a character by the name of Kevin Peters. Throughout this novel, Kevin Peters shares an uncommon type of relationship with the main character Alice Achitophel. Their relationship to the untrained eye is weird due to both of their traumatizing moments that they encountered during the thermonuclear war. Kevin Peters expresses to Alice about the day when the nuclear bomb went off. “My family, my parents, and sisters were not underwater, were not exposed to biting fish: they were sitting in the kitchen, eating breakfast. There was no sound, no flash, just bloating and peeling of flesh, the melting eyes. I wasn’t affected by the rays or the bomb or whatever it was; my fate was the worse, having to just watch. I was ten years old… I tried to kill myself, tired to cut open my chest, but either I was too stupid to do it proficiently or I really couldn’t do it. I can still remember their screams ringing in my ears as I pulled the knife across my chest, wondering why I was alive and cursing God for not killing me too.” (Everett, 121-122). Looking back at the definition, we can see that Kevin Peters’s response to the trauma was trying to kill himself, to end the misery of seeing his family die right in front of him. We can also see with his relationship with Alice how he cannot feel a full range of emotions and experiences when Alice Achitophel expresses that she is in love with him. “I appreciate your feeling…All of what has happened is very strange and bizarre and I accept it only because this is a sick planet. Disease has its surprises. You take time and collect yourself, come to terms with things, as much as possible, then think about love. Think about if it fits in this world” (Everett,152). With the passage, I see the pain, the pure pain Kevin Peters is holding inside. When you have been with someone as long as Kevin and Alice been especially with traumatic realities, one would think love would be the only thing left, but for Kevin, I see he only thinks he deserves death. Due to his whole family dying, maybe he does not want to get close to love to only lose it again. Maybe Kevin is trying to persuade Alice not to love him, so it does not give him a reason to love her. Everett uses Kevin Peters as an example of how trauma affects the black male in society, he no longer feels as he belongs or deserves life or love, but only to face the traumatic situations and end his life in death.
In the novel Home by Toni Morrison, Morrison takes a different route of explaining trauma with her character Frank Money. Frank joined the army to escape his lifestyle down south, leaving behind his loved younger sister Cee. By joining the army came disturbing experiences and actions that he portrayed in. During the novel, Frank has theses moments of flashbacks. One flashback was what he saw during the war with a relief guard and a young Korean girl. “She smiles, reaches for the soldier’s crotch, touches it. It surprises him. Yum-yum? As soon as I look away from her hand to her face, see the two teeth missing teeth, the fall of her black hair above eager eyes, he blows her away… Still, I knew there were a few corrupt ones who were not content with the usual girls for sale and took to marketing children. Thinking back on it now. I think the guard felt more than disgust. I think he felt tempted and that is what he had to kill.” (Morrison, 95-96) Morrison gives a clear view of what Frank experienced during the war. That there was no remorse for even a hungry child, who knew no better, but then Frank tells another story. “I have to say something right now, I have to tell the whole truth. I lied to you and I lied to me. I hid it from you because I hid it from me. I felt so proud grieving over my dead friends… My mourning was so thick it completely covered my shame… I shot the Korean girl in her face, I am the one she touched. I am the one who saw her smile. I am the one she said “Yum-yum” to. I am the one she aroused. A child. A wee little girl. I didn’t think. I didn’t have to. Better she should die. How could I let her live after she took me down to a place I didn’t know was in me? How could I like myself, even be myself if I surrendered to that place where I unzip my fly and let her taste me right then and there?” (Morrison, 133-134) Morrison made it clear that sometimes trauma is not from the outside world but from within ourselves, our world. Frank’s past explains why he cannot cope; he lied, and he was so caught up in other unknown emotions he allowed himself to stoop down low, even for him. Morrison made me, as a reader, realize that trauma is not just solely from actions from the outside world or other people, but from the lies we tell ourselves, and by the actions, we partake in.
Overall, both Kevin and Frank have commonalities between them. Kevin and Frank have experienced traumatic events that have led them to the inability to feel or experience emotions. They both partake in a relationship with women, with no intention of being serious. Also, both Kevin and Frank cannot bear the truth of what has happened to them. Lastly, both Kevin and Frank are black men living in a white society. With that being said, as a reader, I think if Kevin and Frank met, Kevin would see himself in Frank, and Frank would see himself in Kevin. I say this because of the background of the African American community. African Americans have experienced so much torture, pain, and humiliation that no other race can relate. African Americans have an extra sense when it comes to our culture and community, as black people, we are the only one who knows how one another feels. If Kevin and Frank met, I think, they would not share words only glares like the slaves on ships who knew what lifestyle lay ahead.