Trauma is a universal and unsettling experience. Several current Afrikaans youth novels contain traumatic events, such as rape, sexual abuse and death, as the theme, which demonstrates the relevance of this investigation. The average adolescent reader will probably find these contentious youth novels unsettling and therefore their message of hope may fade away.
Self-directed learning (in our opinion, self-directed reading) enables an individual to enhance his or her knowledge, improve his or her skills, set goals, develop personally and take control of the reading experience under any circumstances, at any time, and with the help of any methods. When adolescent readers read a contentious youth novel in a self-directed manner, they are probably not experienced enough to discover the narrative meaning (especially if trauma is the theme of the story). The question posed in this article is whether an adolescent reader who reads these youth novels in a self-directed manner and who is not being guided through the reading process (by either a teacher or a parent) would experience problems with interpreting the intertextuality and unravelling the deeper narrative meaning. Researchers justifiably proposes that in such a case specific clues and contextual markers are necessary to construct meaning from the text. In addition to these propositions, clear reading strategies are also stipulated in the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (DBO 2011), which learners (specifically the learners in the Senior and Further Education and Training Phases) may use to discover the meaning of texts. These clues, contextual markers and reading strategies include the following: title and cover, motto or epigraph (intertextual insinuations), prologue, opening sentences, narrative structure, narrative components, use of documents, concluding sentences, conclusion of the novel, skimming and scanning skills, activation of previous knowledge, prediction, visualisation, questioning, derivations, identification of main and supporting ideas, summaries, synthesis, monitoring of understanding and evaluation.
The extensive literature review of this investigation shows that trauma can be life-threatening. Trauma is not an occurrence; it is a process. Trauma encompasses a condition of helplessness, isolation and the loss of control. It is evident that trauma is the emotional and psychological reaction of a single or repetitive unsettling experience or series of experiences which, among others, include death, sexual abuse and promiscuity, hijacking, relocation and retrenchment. Traumatised people use various defence mechanisms in their attempts to process negative experiences, such as fight (anger and aggression), flight (denial, escape and silence) or freezing (passivity, disassociation, self-destruction and self-hurt). Processing trauma involves the creation of safety and stability, memories and mourning, having social contact with people and meaningful activities, speaking about the trauma in a safe environment and organising the traumatic experience into a narrative.
Understanding is not the result of reading, but a process. In other words, reading and understanding cannot be detached from each other. Understanding is a strategic process during which readers make predictions by using clues from the text, together with their existing knowledge, by monitoring the predictions, and by constructing the meaning of the text. In summary, the reading process is the interaction between the reader, the text and the (sociocultural) context, while reading comprehension is the result of the interaction between the reader, the clues activated by the reader and the context in which the reading occurs. Since the reader is central to the reading processand reading comprehension, the reception-aesthetics approach is used as a lens in this article to focus on the analysis of the novel Blou is nie ’n kleur nie (Blue is not a colour), written by award-winning author Carin Krahtz. The reception-aesthetics approach of Iser (1978) is a reader-orientated theory that emphasises the manner in which readers construct meaning from the text, as symbolised by the focalisation of the real and implied narrators. The reception-aesthetics approach evaluates the role of the reader’s feelings, the various individual reactions to the text, the confrontation and interaction between the reader and the text, as well as the nature and limitations of the interpretation of the text. The reader’s interpretation of a specific text changes over the course of time as the context of the reader continually changes.
The text analysis of the embodiment of experiencing and processing trauma in Blou is nie ’n kleur nie follows an integrated literary approach as the descriptive method. This means that the content of the text is approached holistically. Analysis, interpretation and evaluation of the text were the steps taken in this holistic approach. This youth novel is a contentious story of awakening, which may provide both older adolescents and young adults with an enriching reading experience. The stripped, honest presentation of disturbing yet universal themes provides for a harrowing story. The story does not provide quick fixes to the traumatic events, but suggests that there is hope. Some of the characters have not been traumatised, but become the victims of dangerous events. The silence of the characters draws the reader in on a personal level as a participant. In the novel the trauma theme is overpoweringly disturbing and the narrative meaning is presented incoherently to such an extent that the message of hope fades away for not only the uninformed but also the informed reader. Only in hindsight does the narrative meaning become clear.
From the textual analysis of this novel, with Vicky as the internal focaliser, it is deduced that each character has his or her own way of experiencing and processing trauma. The way each character experiences and processes trauma makes him or her either a trauma victim or merely a traumatised person. Hannes escapes the trauma of his child’s death through alcoholism, promiscuity and the desire to emigrate (fleeing). Deidre escapes the same trauma by immersing herself in her work and abandoning the family in this critical time (fleeing). Nan is passive towards the traumatic events and keeps quiet about matters that involve her granddaughter to protect Deidre (freezing). In order to process the trauma (drowning, molestation and rape), Rina disassociates herself from the events, and through this, she destroys herself (freezing). Vicky is the only character who is prepared to break the silence on the traumatic events – she “sees” Cornel, wants to talk about him and believes her prayers have been answered; she fights the trauma by ending the silence. Owing to Vicky’s honesty, the reader realises that if trauma is put into a narrative and one starts talking about it, one does not have to be a victim. From the way this family processes trauma, it becomes clear who are victims (such as Hannes and Rina) and who are traumatised (such as Deidre, Nan and Vicky). Although Vicky has been traumatised by the events, she is the only character who shows resilience in respect of the trauma. Vicky offers a message of hope to the reader.
Teachers should be aware of the adolescent reader’s limited historical literary knowledge in interpreting intertexts, among others. This article aims to equip adolescent readers, through teachers, to read youth novels in which trauma figures as a theme, in a self-directed manner. A self-directed reader should be able to learn independently in order to meet the demands of the society creatively, critically and in a problem-solving manner. The core of this article deals with the development of reading strategies and skills to develop the literary abilities of adolescent readers to read youth novels with contentious content meaningfully as self-directed readers.
Blou is nie ’n kleur nie is a gift from Carin Krahtz to the self-directed reader because the reader can discover this story by means of the mentioned clues, contextual markers and reading strategies, and unlock the hidden narrative meaning of hope.
Keywords: clues; contextual markers; intertext; reading strategies; reception aesthetics; self-directed reading; trauma; youth literature