Literature and Culture

Vol. 50 (2012)

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”: Trauma, Writing and Alternative Communities in Sapphire’s Push and Its Film Adaptation Precious

Elżbieta Klimek-Dominiak

Pages: 61 - 75

PDF (Język Polski)


"Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”: Trauma, Writing and Alternative Communities in Sapphire’s Push and Its Film Adaptation Precious

Similarly to the critically acclaimed novel Push by Sapphire Ramona Lofton, an African
American poet, performer and educator, Precious, the 2009 film adaptation of the novel, won numerous awards. In the supposedly post-racial era of Barack Obama’s presidency the film sparked off an intense debate about the representation of African Americans. In Poland this independent film premiered in 2010 and also received enthusiastic reviews. The film deserves attention because of its brilliant acting and its vivid visual rendition of such trauma symptoms as flashbacks and dissociations as well as some significant changes introduced into the original narrative; most notably a lightskinned character in place of a dark-skinned one, and the optimistic ending. The novel foregrounds the stages of the protagonist’s personal growth in journal writing and poetry as well as intertextual references to important works of the African American literary tradition, but it concludes with a less comforting double ending. This paper explores the function of the narrative strategy of the dialogue journal writing employed in Push by the adolescent African American protagonist, Precious, to construct a counter story of an incestuous family life and social isolation. The self-narration of Precious in her journal entries exposes the sexual and physical abuse in her family and the neglect of educational and social institutions, and in the process brings about her self-knowledge, desire to change and gradual selfempowerment. Encouraged by her teacher, Precious finds her own voice and her journal writing becomes a “textualization of her own self” in search of new opportunities for growth Harkins 2009: 219. Precious’s journal exchanges with her teacher, her creative writing of poetry and her interaction with the students from the substitute school and support groups also constitute an alternative to the gritty realist narrative about the cycle of poverty and abuse in late 1980s Harlem. However, Precious’s recovery is not smooth. The novel vividly depicts the destructive self-image and multiple post-traumatic stress disorders caused by long-term abuse and neglect. The psychic trauma Precious experiences at home and at school is rendered in the novel by the fragmentation of her narrative, frequent flashbacks and dissociations. The novel abounds in intertextual references to African American literature as Precious develops her literary competence and critical skills. The paper explores the significance of writing for recovery from trauma as theorized by trauma studies and scriptotherapy.


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