According to AmericanPsychological Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in somepeople after a horrific event, accident, war or sexual abuse. People with PTSDcan re-experience the traumatic event, and the memories will arise involuntarily, “the individual has recurrent,involuntary, and intrusive recollections of the event” (APA 275). Through sudden recalling of the event whichcaused PTSD, the person who experienced the event returns to the day of thetraumatic event and relives it.
Mala Ramchandin in Shani Mootoo’s 1996 novelCereus Blooms at Night, experiences traumatic and destructive events whichdisrupt his life. I will attempt to examine the relationship between PTSD,physical and emotional abuse in this paper. Set in a fictional placecalled Lantanacamara, Cereus Blooms at Night exposes the lives of the citizensliving in the town of Paradise. The main focus of the story is how Mala isabused by her own father and treated as everything that is happening in theRamchandin house is perfectly normal by the community. She goes through a lotfrom an early age; her mother and sister abandon her, the man she loves runsaway when he realises what was going on in the house, her father sexuallyabuses her. After her visit by Otto who is dressed like Ambrose, Mala’s love,the police takes the old woman, Mala, to an Alms House and this is where shemeets Tyler and is taken care of by him. Despite Mala’s silence, afterlistening to Mala’s fragmented sentences and gossip, Tyler narrates her story.
Tracing back to theabusive father Chandin’s life as a child, the novel provides a detaileddescription of the colonisation of the island, how the citizens of thisimaginary island were treated by the colonisers and the backstory of Mala’s ownstory.The old Ramchandin, who is an indentured field labourer, is concerned andhopeless about the future of his only child. Thus, when the Reverend Thoroughlywants to adopt his son he thinks that it is a good chance for Chandin, that hislife is saved. The immigrant workers hear about the Reverend’s visit quicklyand talk about how lucky Chandin and his family is. However, it becomes clearthat the Reverend had an agenda when adopting Chandin and it was to convertIndians who live on the island to Christianity. Colonisation’s power becomesevident when Chandin “was unwittingly helping to convert Indians toChristianity” (Mootoo 29) even before he enters the Reverend’s house. EdwardSaid argues that the idea of “The East” is created by “TheWest” to justify the occidental’s desire to colonise and dominate.
Europeans justification for postcolonial violence is that the eastern peoplesuch as Indians, need to be “educated” and “civilized”, whereas theactual reason is the desire to take advantage and oppress. An example of thiscan be seen in the Reverend and his family’s treatment of the Ramchandinfamily, especially Chandin. The effects of moving outof his own house to the Thoroughly house changes Chandin’s personality; hestops visiting his parents, starts to look down on them, and tries hard to belike the Reverend: “He would change, he decided once and for all. . .hediligently studied and imitated the Reverend’s pensive stroking of his chin orhis tapping of his fingers against a book.
. .he made strides as wide as thetowering Reverend’s, and he clapped his hands, similarly” (Mootoo 34). Heis the colonised and being the “Other”, the outsider whose presencein the Thoroughly house is for the purpose of converting Indians toChristianity. His name is kept because the Reverend thought that”Chandin’s own name would win is people’s trust” (Mootoo 30). He isthe colonised, the “Other” whose presence in the Thoroughly house isfor the purpose of converting Indians to Christianity. His name is kept becausethe Reverend thought that “Chandin’s own name would win is people’strust” (Mootoo 30).
Deracinated from his culture, Chandin craves to betaken as an English man like the Reverend, and he completely detaches himselffrom his own family. As time passes, he realises that he will never be entirelyEnglish and white, he develops feelings of self-hatred especially after Lavinia”failed to notice him” (Mootoo 33). His self-loathing starts to growand he hates everything about himself: “He began to hate his looks, thecolour of his skin, his accent, the barracks, his real parents and at timeseven the Reverend and his god” (Mootoo 33). The symptoms of postcolonialtrauma start to show itself in Chandin’s behaviours when he is in theThoroughly household. Once he realises that there is no way for him to be withLavinia, Chandin begins to hate himself: his appearance, his posture, his accent,etc. The term liminality can be applied to Chandin; he cuts all his ties withhis biological parents and cannot relate to his culture. He wants to be seenand treated just like the Reverend, and when he understands that he will neverget to live that dream, he becomes the monster he created with his hatred andgrudge. Understanding that the Reverand’s strict saying that he is “to bea brother to Lavinia and nothing more” (Mooto 37), day after day Chandinbecomes aware of the fact that he will never be part of the Thoroughly familyentirely.
Having learnt that the Reverand does not approve his love for Laviniaand hearing that he is “to be a brother to Lavinia and nothing more”(Mooto 37), Chandin’s self-loathing peaks. He marries Sarah who is “the small, darkgirl from the barracks” (Mootoo 32) and his knowledge of beingdiscriminated because of his race and Lavinia’s direct rejection reveals the spiteful,self-loathing man he always was deep down. Years later, his wife Sarah and hisobsession Lavinia run away together and so begins the nightmare of Pohpoh andAsha: Chandin sexually and emotionally abuses them. Having witnessed heryounger sister’s rape as well, Mala experiences the trauma of witnessing Asha’ssuffering and psychological damage inflicted by their own father.Thinking thatAsha would have left with her mother and Aunt Lavinia and be safe fromChandin’s cruelty if it was not for her, Pohpoh develops feelings of guilt, soshe takes the role of the mother and goes to Chandin’s room to suffer for herlittle sister when he calls for Asha too. It is fair to say that the reason forTyler’s interest in Chandin’s backstory is because of his yearning tounderstand how a human can possibly reach such a low point. In this novel, thereader can see that Chandin, who is the perpetrator of Mala and Asha, is also avictim of Eurocentric society.
Mootoo gives the rapescenes without holding back; these graphic descriptions of the abuse help thereader better understand the trauma Mala went through almost all her life. Mala’sactions or lack thereof, make the symptoms of PTSD become apparent in the firstpages of Cereus Blooms at Night: Her refusal to talk and eat, her groaning inthe middle of the night, and her inability to even lift a finger. The mostdistinctive characteristic of PTSD is the recurrent memories of the traumaticevent. According to APA, one of the symptoms of PTSD is the “exaggeratedstartle response” which shows itself in the beginning of the novel, Malais taken to the Alms House but does not want anybody touching her.
After Tyler’sinitial attempt to approach Mala fails because flinches “as though [Tyler]might hurt her” (Mootoo 13). The most distinctive characteristic of PTSDis the recurrent memories of the traumatic event. According to APA, one of thesymptoms of PTSD is the “exaggerated startle response” which showsitself in the beginning of the novel, Mala is taken to the Alms House but doesnot want anybody touching her.
The impacts of incest and rape do not always showthemselves in the form of PTSD, sometimes it can not be easy to detect thesymptoms of sexual abuse especially if the abused one is a child. Being hurt bysomeone they trust, the children describe the abuse with expressions of fear ordisgust. In the case of Mala, being continuously raped by her own father, shetries to find a way to cope with all this. Asha who is also abused by Chandinruns away from the incestuous house, whereas Mala does not leave with hersister but stays behind which leads to even more depression. Starting from theabandonment of her mother and Aunt Lavinia, Mala goes through many differenttraumas in her life. Her father’s sexual and emotional abuse all her life, hersister’s seeming abandonment and Ambrose’s escape from her house after heunderstands “everything” (Mootoo 226), leave Mala unable to express anyof her emotions anymore. Mala Ramchandin is amarginalised figure who is seen as a madwoman in the Paradise society; she isbelieved to have lived an incestuous relationship with her own father, Chandin.Even after she kills her perpetrator, her nightmare continues.
The man whom shethought was the love of her life turns out to be a coward who chooses to donothing when he realises the dreadful crime which Chandin had been committingagainst Mala. Even after she kills her perpetrator, her nightmare continues.The man whom she thought was the love of her life turns out to be a coward whochooses to do nothing when he realises the dreadful crime which Chandin hadbeen committing against Mala. After the police barges into her garden and theentire society which rejected her, she is taken to the Alms House. Having gonethrough so many traumas in her life, plus what she experienced before she wastaken to the hospital, Mala refuses to say one word to people who never triedto save her from the hands of her cruel father.
DSM-V holds the view thatthe person who has either been exposed to direct trauma such as sexual violenceor witnessed someone close to them experience a traumatic event may have”recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of thetraumatic event(s)”. (DSM-5 271)