The Irish Potato Famine and The Holocaust in Literature
Writers often use literature as a means of communicating traumatic events that occur in history, and such events are recorded by first-hand accounts as well as remembered by people far removed from the situation. Two traumatic events in history that are readily found in literature are The Irish Potato Famine and The Holocaust. A literary medium that has been used quite poignantly to convey trauma is poetry and the poetry from these two historical traumatic events is not difficult to find. Some wrote poetry to maintain their sanity as they experienced the traumatic event while others wrote after-the-fact as an outlet for emotional pain. Some wrote in remembrance of what they had lived through and so that others in succeeding generations could fathom even a glimpse of their traumatic experience. Another group of writers, far removed from the events, felt they had some light to shed on the subject. These people may be from a background similar to the victims or very learned on the matter surrounding it. A reader may wonder why poetry is such a viable option for conveying the trauma of so many people. Hilda Schiff writes, “the contemporaneous literature of any period of history is not only an integral part of that period, but it also allows us to understand historical events and experiences better than the bare facts alone can do because they enable us to absorb them inwardly” (xiv). The facts are raw and bare, like a skeleton. The literature and poetry add the skin and features to the bones to make the people and images they represent more realistic.
Historians hope that by teaching younger generations about historical mistakes of the past, the knowledge will assure the event does not happen again. It is important to note that, “not all of the poems are great as art, but they are great as documents of humanity at its best, rejecting silent acquiescence in the face of brute force, and beautifully fulfilling the poet’s duty to remind new generations of this genocide…so that the past will not be repeated” (Kramer xiv). The author also benefits from writing about the trauma; a need to express what has happened, is quenched. It is shown that the “literature of trauma is written from the need to tell and retell the story of the traumatic experience, to make it ‘real’ both to the victim and to the community…[as well as] serving both as a validation and cathartic vehicle for the traumatized author” (Tal 21). The story is larger than the words of the author. His or her life has been permanently altered by trauma, and by acknowledging it in the realm of reality, readers can take part in the trauma.
In both of the historical events above, a great many people faced trauma, pain, starvation, disease, and all for a reason that is difficult, if not impossible to pinpoint. There is no way to determine why either situation occurred in history, but it is possible to examine the...