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Posts Tagged ‘unconscious’

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Detail from The Scream, Edvard Munch

This morning I thought about this trope, which I often run into as a reader. But as a fiction writer who sometimes portrays screaming people, I wonder whether it ever really happens. Could I really be so horrified that I might start screaming or crying or otherwise expressing my distress — and then hear the sound of it without realizing it’s coming from my own throat?

I’ve seen this device used in many works of fiction to help the reader sense how appalling the character’s experience is. What he or she sees or hears or experiences is so distressing that he screams or cries without even being aware of it. I can go along with that, but what’s hard for me to believe is that you could hear the screaming or crying and not realize that is your own voice.

This question occurred to me this morning when I was listening to Sinners and the Sea, a work of deluge fiction by Rebecca Kanner (I’ve coined the term “deluge fiction” to describe a kind of sub-sub genre of Biblical historical fiction that includes my Cursed Ground series. I say I was listening to it, because audio books are one of my main methods for consuming content.) At one point in Sinners and the Sea, the following passage appears:

Just after the sun’s rays hit the eastern side of the tent, I heard footsteps. Someone raised the door flap, and there was screaming.

“It is only me, child,” my father said, and I realized that the screaming was my own.

I know I’ve run across this trope before many times. I haven’t kept a record, so I can’t tell you the specific novels where it shows up. However, I did a Google search on similar language and found its usage in a couple of works:

Then I heard someone crying out loudly and realized it was me. (The First Game With My Father, by Michael Tierney)

Then it became so quiet, the only noise was someone crying. It was me. (Faith and Drama: Plays and Readings From a Biblical Perspective, by Montana Lattin)

Suddenly I heard someone scream, “I give up. I’m not going to fight you any more. Do whatever you wish, I give up.” Then suddenly I realized it was me screaming. (My World Passes, by Donovan Harrison)

Yes, that last one beggars belief, doesn’t it?

I even found such a passage in a BBC News article about a man who left his baby for three hours in the car, where she died:

“I heard someone screaming,” he says. “Then I realised the screaming was coming from me. The rest is just a total blur.”

Even though that comes from a supposedly true story, I find it hard to credit. It sounds like a tragic, disingenuous, defensive fabrication.

Because this idea of hearing-your-own-voice-screaming-and-not-realizing-who-it-is has become such a cliché, I don’t plan to use it in my own stories. But my question for readers is whether this is a known psychological phenomenon or just a meme created by some fiction writer years ago and picked up by future generations. Anybody know?

ARK — 31 July 2015

 

 

 

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