Hyrum and B and representations of trauma


There is a relatively new brand of literary scholarship that I am enjoying reading about, which is trauma and the ways in which it is represented through fiction. According to trauma scholars, trauma is manifested at an unconscious level, and cannot be organised through linguistic means. And these unconscious memories are retrieved through ‘traumatic re-enactment’ experienced through emotion and in the body.  Trauma results in an unspeakability and incomprehensibility of the events – a form of amnesia. Irene Kacandes (2008) claims that a narrative text can mimic the symptoms of trauma such as amnesia …”through ellipses or flashbacks through anachronies and repetitions” (p. 618).

With this in mind, it is just incredible to see how Brian Caswell and Matt Ottley collaborated on Hyrum and B to depict the trauma of the characters (the two bears: Hyrum and B; and the girl Catherine) who have each experienced trauma. The trauma is never spoken of through the words, but is depicted only through the images, and through the reader making connections. The story is about how the two bears, Hyrum and B, are sitting in an antique toy shop, and are purchased by Catherine. Throughout the narrative we see flashbacks of their individual traumas, shown through images, and there are repetitions of a “shivering with fear” pose experienced by each character. There are many narrative gaps, and the reader is required to work hard to understand Catherine’s story – it is only when we carefully study the images and flip backwards and forwards through the pages that we see the repetitions and notice small symbols that it becomes apparent that Catherine is a refugee from a war-torn country and has been orphaned.

Here is the representation of B’s flashback to a trauma – being tossed into a rubbish bin:


and Hyrum’s flashback is when he was thrown away, left in the rain, threatened by a menacing dog:


and Catherine’s flashback is depicted through these images:



I know of a number of other sophisticated picturebooks that depict trauma, so I may do a comparative analysis of how each achieves this, in another paper down the track.

Kacandes, I., (2008). Trauma theory. In: H. Herman, J. Manfred & M-L. Ryan. [Eds.]. Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

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