In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, trauma plays a central role through its effect on characters’ psychological condition as well as its influence on characters’ actions. The concept of trauma theory reveals that trauma is often not experienced as it occurs, but rather through the repetitive cycle of re-experiencing repressed memories of the past that form in response to external stimuli. Just as Johnny unwillingly relives the abusive treatment of his foster father after reading of Chad’s swollen face in The Navidson Record, my poem depicts a girl that experiences the trauma of her rape at a park years after it took place. I reveal how the characteristics of the scene cause her repressed memories to surface. Emotions associated with recognition come flooding back with increasing speed as the environment becomes more familiar. I also demonstrate that when the event is both forgotten and repressed or not recognized by the individual as a trauma, the actual experience has an existing yet more limited effect on the individual’s mental and emotional state. Just as Karen experiences severe claustrophobia caused by an unknown event, suggested as the result of being forced into a well by her father, the girl in my poem chooses to follow the path to the left without any reason other than an innate feeling. The girl is unable to understand the full impact of her trauma until her memory allows her to face it.
While most of the characters in The Navidson Record endure some form of traumatic experience through disturbing encounters, stressful events, as well as physical injury associated with the house on Ash Tree Lane, I believe the aftermath of the incidents, the true trauma of recollection, has yet to impact the survivors. I believe Navidson, despite his will to move forward, will continue to experience his trauma. An unexpected burning out of a light bulb or the growl from a neighbor’s dog could call to mind the horrible events that took place inside the darkness of the house.