Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Romance Languages

First Advisor

Lydie Moudileno


Cathy Caruth and Shoshana Felman’s pioneering work in trauma theory provided innovative critical frameworks for reading textual and filmic responses to mass violence. Yet trauma theory is rarely applied to African cultural production, despite the recent explosion of novels, memoir, and film from Sub-Saharan Francophone Africa grappling with civil war and genocide. In close analyses of child soldier novels, Rwandan genocide survivor memoirs, and Francophone African films, this dissertation effects such a theoretical rapprochement while simultaneously probing the limits of trauma theory’s assumptions concerning speech, temporality, and political representation. The first chapter, entitled “Giving Voice to the Icon: The Child Witness to Violence in Francophone African Fiction,” rereads Ivorian author Ahmadou Kourouma’s child soldier novel Allah n’est pas obligé (2000) arguing that Kourouma creates a “language of trauma,” which reveals how discourses of collective suffering risk limiting our understanding of violence’s psychological impact on individuals. The second chapter, “Listening to the Limit: Reading Paratext in Francophone African Trauma Memoirs,” redeploys Gérard Genette’s formulation of the “paratext” to read Rwandan Tutsi survivor Esther Mujawayo’s memoir SurVivantes (2011). I argue that the multiple introductions to SurVivantes function as a form of hospitality, inviting the reader to become a part of a virtual community of supportive listeners. The third chapter, “Hierarchies of Witnessing: Pan-African Celebrity and the Marginalization of Survivor Testimony,” investigates why Tutsi survivor memoirs have received so little attention from scholars. Using Rwandan survivor Vénuste Kayimahe’s 2001 memoir France-Rwanda: Les coulisses du génocide (2001) as a case study, I argue that the marginalization of Rwandan survivor testimonies bears troubling similarities to survivor’s difficulties being heard in the real world. The fourth chapter, “African Trauma On (and Off) Screen: Temporality and Violence in Francophone African Cinema,” argues that in leaving graphic scenes of subjective violence off-screen, African filmmakers actively bear witness to the insidious long-term effects of events such as the Rwandan genocide or the daily reality of occupation under radical jihadist groups in Northern Mali as seen Abderrahmane Sissako’s 2014 film Timbuktu.