The arrival of George Saunders’ novel Lincoln in the Bardo as yet another trauma narrative is not surprising. What began as a desire for representation of trauma in media and literature has morphed into an obsession in which trauma is the gold standard. Upon becoming so, trauma is inevitably placed upon a pedestal—the shining object that all other decisions are measured against and based upon. Its placement on this pedestal marks the “sacralization” of trauma. However, Lincoln in the Bardo fills a unique niche in the current portrayals of trauma found in popular media by seeking to minimize its importance as the story progresses. This comes in direct contrast to the golden standard that trauma narratives have become. Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is unique in the way it details a path for pulling trauma off the pedestal rather than lending itself to further prioritization—in other words, a path for desacralization. The novel renders a method for desacralizing trauma through the steps the characters themselves use: the use of community, empathic unsettlement, and an acceptance of death. As the characters actively seek to deprioritize their own trauma, Lincoln in the Bardo can be taken as a critique on the sacralization of the trauma narrative that invades current media and literature trends.
Issue and Volume
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
"The Only Way Out is Through: Community, Death, and the Desacralization of Trauma in George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo,"
Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism: Vol. 15:
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/criterion/vol15/iss2/4