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Keywords

dissociation, trauma, amnesia, physiology, psychology, Lincoln in the Bardo, Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, heartbreak, empathy, kindness, PTSD, dissociative disorders

Abstract

In George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, a host of undead characters find themselves in a spiritual limbo based on the bardo. Although they won’t admit it to themselves, Roger Bevins III and Hans Vollman are most certainly dead. Despite their supernatural makeup as ghosts, Bevins and Vollman bear strong psychological resonance with the living: they are human, heartbroken, and lost. For the ghosts of Oak Hills Cemetery, the inefficient coping mechanism of dissociation perpetuates their afterlife imprisonment in the bardo. Bevins and Vollman suffer from a variety of dissociative symptoms, their minds’ psychological defense against the trauma that has unfortunately carried itself far beyond the grave. Demonstrated almost exactly parallel to Saunders’ conception of kindness, Bevins and Vollman’s ability to show empathy for each other enables them to finally escape their misery in the afterlife. Saunders’ work is often centrally concerned with the question: “How are we kind to each other in a world that does not always create space for that?” (“Transcript”) Bevins and Vollman create that space for kindness in their own world of the bardo as they meet each other where they stand as victims of trauma and dissociation, lending them the empathy required to help each other overcome it. Roger Bevins and Hans Vollman’s experience with trauma as ghosts in the bardo allows us to create space for victims of trauma, perhaps in ways we hadn’t considered before.

Issue and Volume

15.1

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