“Everything Now is Measured by After”: Responses to Trauma in Post-9/11 Literature by Jonathan Safran Foer, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and Ian McEwan
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The terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 remain unmatched in their ramifications and media coverage as the biggest event in the 21st century. The specific targets of the attacks underline a hatred toward Western culture, hereby instilling fear in people not only in The United States but across the globe. This research examines responses to the large-scale trauma caused by 9/11 by examining characters in four novels depicting daily domestic life before, during, and after the attacks: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, and Ian McEwan’s Saturday. ‘Trauma’ in its broadest sense is described as an open wound. Trauma victims often have difficulty living daily life in the present without their traumatic past interfering mentally. The process of healing from trauma is known as working-through, and results in the victim being able to relegate their traumatic experience to the past and move on from that past. In the novels by Foer and DeLillo, the main characters have yet failed to complete this process, resulting in a centripetal mindset that keeps returning them to the origin of their trauma. The characters in Pynchon’s and McEwan’s novels instead showcase a centrifugal motion. While they exhibit unbelief and an unwillingness to accept reality, they stray away from the origin of their trauma. Escapism plays an important role in this, as for example art, physical intimacy, and technology allow them to distance themself from the events that traumatized them.