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According to American
Psychological Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in some
people after a horrific event, accident, war or sexual abuse. People with PTSD
can 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 which
caused PTSD, the person who experienced the event returns to the day of the
traumatic event and relives it. Mala Ramchandin in Shani Mootoo’s 1996 novel
Cereus Blooms at Night, experiences traumatic and destructive events which
disrupt his life. I will attempt to examine the relationship between PTSD,
physical and emotional abuse in this paper.

Set in a fictional place
called Lantanacamara, Cereus Blooms at Night exposes the lives of the citizens
living in the town of Paradise. The main focus of the story is how Mala is
abused by her own father and treated as everything that is happening in the
Ramchandin house is perfectly normal by the community. She goes through a lot
from an early age; her mother and sister abandon her, the man she loves runs
away when he realises what was going on in the house, her father sexually
abuses 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 she
meets Tyler and is taken care of by him. Despite Mala’s silence, after
listening to Mala’s fragmented sentences and gossip, Tyler narrates her story.

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Tracing back to the
abusive father Chandin’s life as a child, the novel provides a detailed
description of the colonisation of the island, how the citizens of this
imaginary island were treated by the colonisers and the backstory of Mala’s own
story.The old Ramchandin, who is an indentured field labourer, is concerned and
hopeless about the future of his only child. Thus, when the Reverend Thoroughly
wants to adopt his son he thinks that it is a good chance for Chandin, that his
life is saved. The immigrant workers hear about the Reverend’s visit quickly
and talk about how lucky Chandin and his family is. However, it becomes clear
that the Reverend had an agenda when adopting Chandin and it was to convert
Indians who live on the island to Christianity. Colonisation’s power becomes
evident when Chandin “was unwittingly helping to convert Indians to
Christianity” (Mootoo 29) even before he enters the Reverend’s house. Edward
Said argues that the idea of “The East” is created by “The
West” to justify the occidental’s desire to colonise and dominate.
Europeans justification for postcolonial violence is that the eastern people
such as Indians, need to be “educated” and “civilized”, whereas the
actual reason is the desire to take advantage and oppress. An example of this
can be seen in the Reverend and his family’s treatment of the Ramchandin
family, especially Chandin.

The effects of moving out
of his own house to the Thoroughly house changes Chandin’s personality; he
stops visiting his parents, starts to look down on them, and tries hard to be
like the Reverend: “He would change, he decided once and for all. . .he
diligently studied and imitated the Reverend’s pensive stroking of his chin or
his tapping of his fingers against a book. . .he made strides as wide as the
towering Reverend’s, and he clapped his hands, similarly” (Mootoo 34). He
is the colonised and being the “Other”, the outsider whose presence
in the Thoroughly house is for the purpose of converting Indians to
Christianity. His name is kept because the Reverend thought that
“Chandin’s own name would win is people’s trust” (Mootoo 30). He is
the colonised, the “Other” whose presence in the Thoroughly house is
for the purpose of converting Indians to Christianity. His name is kept because
the Reverend thought that “Chandin’s own name would win is people’s
trust” (Mootoo 30). Deracinated from his culture, Chandin craves to be
taken as an English man like the Reverend, and he completely detaches himself
from his own family. As time passes, he realises that he will never be entirely
English and white, he develops feelings of self-hatred especially after Lavinia
“failed to notice him” (Mootoo 33). His self-loathing starts to grow
and he hates everything about himself: “He began to hate his looks, the
colour of his skin, his accent, the barracks, his real parents and at times
even the Reverend and his god” (Mootoo 33). The symptoms of postcolonial
trauma start to show itself in Chandin’s behaviours when he is in the
Thoroughly household. Once he realises that there is no way for him to be with
Lavinia, 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 with
his biological parents and cannot relate to his culture. He wants to be seen
and treated just like the Reverend, and when he understands that he will never
get to live that dream, he becomes the monster he created with his hatred and
grudge. Understanding that the Reverand’s strict saying that he is “to be
a brother to Lavinia and nothing more” (Mooto 37), day after day Chandin
becomes aware of the fact that he will never be part of the Thoroughly family
entirely. Having learnt that the Reverand does not approve his love for Lavinia
and 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, dark
girl from the barracks” (Mootoo 32) and his knowledge of being
discriminated 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 his
obsession Lavinia run away together and so begins the nightmare of Pohpoh and
Asha: Chandin sexually and emotionally abuses them. Having witnessed her
younger sister’s rape as well, Mala experiences the trauma of witnessing Asha’s
suffering and psychological damage inflicted by their own father.Thinking that
Asha would have left with her mother and Aunt Lavinia and be safe from
Chandin’s cruelty if it was not for her, Pohpoh develops feelings of guilt, so
she takes the role of the mother and goes to Chandin’s room to suffer for her
little sister when he calls for Asha too. It is fair to say that the reason for
Tyler’s interest in Chandin’s backstory is because of his yearning to
understand how a human can possibly reach such a low point. In this novel, the
reader can see that Chandin, who is the perpetrator of Mala and Asha, is also a
victim of Eurocentric society.

Mootoo gives the rape
scenes without holding back; these graphic descriptions of the abuse help the
reader better understand the trauma Mala went through almost all her life. Mala’s
actions or lack thereof, make the symptoms of PTSD become apparent in the first
pages of Cereus Blooms at Night: Her refusal to talk and eat, her groaning in
the middle of the night, and her inability to even lift a finger. The most
distinctive characteristic of PTSD is the recurrent memories of the traumatic
event. According to APA, one of the symptoms of PTSD is the “exaggerated
startle response” which shows itself in the beginning of the novel, Mala
is taken to the Alms House but does not want anybody touching her.After Tyler’s
initial attempt to approach Mala fails because flinches “as though [Tyler]
might hurt her” (Mootoo 13). The most distinctive characteristic of PTSD
is the recurrent memories of the traumatic event. According to APA, one of the
symptoms of PTSD is the “exaggerated startle response” which shows
itself in the beginning of the novel, Mala is taken to the Alms House but does
not want anybody touching her.The impacts of incest and rape do not always show
themselves in the form of PTSD, sometimes it can not be easy to detect the
symptoms of sexual abuse especially if the abused one is a child. Being hurt by
someone they trust, the children describe the abuse with expressions of fear or
disgust. In the case of Mala, being continuously raped by her own father, she
tries to find a way to cope with all this. Asha who is also abused by Chandin
runs away from the incestuous house, whereas Mala does not leave with her
sister but stays behind which leads to even more depression. Starting from the
abandonment of her mother and Aunt Lavinia, Mala goes through many different
traumas in her life. Her father’s sexual and emotional abuse all her life, her
sister’s seeming abandonment and Ambrose’s escape from her house after he
understands “everything” (Mootoo 226), leave Mala unable to express any
of her emotions anymore.

Mala Ramchandin is a
marginalised figure who is seen as a madwoman in the Paradise society; she is
believed to have lived an incestuous relationship with her own father, Chandin.
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 who chooses to do
nothing when he realises the dreadful crime which Chandin had been committing
against 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 who
chooses to do nothing when he realises the dreadful crime which Chandin had
been committing against Mala. After the police barges into her garden and the
entire society which rejected her, she is taken to the Alms House. Having gone
through so many traumas in her life, plus what she experienced before she was
taken to the hospital, Mala refuses to say one word to people who never tried
to save her from the hands of her cruel father.

DSM-V holds the view that
the person who has either been exposed to direct trauma such as sexual violence
or witnessed someone close to them experience a traumatic event may have
“recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the
traumatic event(s)”. (DSM-5 271)

 

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