Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Michael Handelsman

Committee Members

Luis Cano, Nuria Cruz Camara, Manuela Ceballos


My dissertation deals with the role and representation of trauma in four novels of the contemporary Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. Most of the studies concerning this author offer a general vision of his works as a whole and are books composed of separated articles. My dissertation offers a thorough analysis of four of Bolaño’s novels that are less popular among critics. Through the analysis of textual material, I contend that Bolaño presents trauma and violence in excess as a means of highlighting the insensitivity provoked by unrestrained violence. The characters of his novels undergo a process in which they lose the ability and capacity to feel, and therefore no longer interpret trauma as such.

The analysis of these novels illustrates how, in the universe of Bolaño, trauma is a common and current phenomenon. The characters have become so accustomed to the horrors of war, crime or torture, among others, that the sense of humanity has been lost. In other words, these characters are not presented as victims or ask for compassion, but accept their condition and resign to live with it, therefore, trauma is not conceived as a pathology to be cured and overcome. However, it is necessary to speak of trauma precisely because of this impossibility of recognizing it as an obstacle. Not considering it as such, each character is isolated in his own experience, which makes it impossible to live in a community. Thus, Bolaño expresses a crisis through a society that is consumed by the effects of violence every day and the characters are presented as isolated beings who cannot free themselves from violence and the traumatic experiences. Together, the novels offer a fragmented worldview where the sense of community has been lost. Through this dehumanization, Bolaño not only provides a different perspective to portray violence but also warns of trauma as a defining condition of contemporary societies.

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