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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Psychological Analysis of Memory and Trauma in Mayasa Al-Nakhlani’s “I Named Her Fatima” by Hatem Al-Shamea

Psychological Analysis of Memory and Trauma in Mayasa Al-Nakhlani’s “I Named Her Fatima”


Hatem Al-Shamea


The novel “I Named Her Fatima” by acclaimed Yemeni author Mayasa Al-Nakhlani delves deeply into themes of psychological trauma, repressed memory, and inner turmoil. Through the protagonist Khalid, the story explores how past traumatic events can shape one’s identity and mental state. In this article, I aim to provide a psychological analysis of the novel utilizing Sigmund Freud’s classic psychoanalytic theory. Freud’s framework sheds light on the workings of the unconscious mind and how trauma gets repressed and manifests later in dreams, symptoms, and behavior. Through this lens, we can gain deeper insights into Khalid’s character development, troubled psyche, and his struggle to confront repressed memories from an unknown event in his past.

Khalid’s Inner Turmoil

The opening chapter immediately throws the reader into Khalid’s troubled psyche as he experiences a vivid nightmare. We are given no context or backstory, mirroring Khalid’s own fragmented mental state without resolution or understanding of the past event. The dream depicts Khalid both committing murder and being murdered, representing the contradictions and conflicts within his still repressed memories.

Freud believed that dreams act as “the via regia to the unconscious” by allowing repressed thoughts, feelings, and urges to surface in disguised symbolic form. Khalid’s contradictory dream roles of perpetrator and victim suggest intense unconscious conflicting emotions and desires surrounding “that day”. On one level, it reflects his repressed desire for retaliation or punishment of the true perpetrator mixed with deep-seated feelings of guilt, shame, and culpability for his own uncertain actions during the crime.

The very contradiction of killing and being killed also demonstrates the fragmented and inconsistently recalled nature of Khalid’s traumatic memory. Without full conscious clarity or context, his mind unconsciously juxtaposes opposing versions in an illogical nightmare scenario. This highlights how traumatic memories operate nonlinearly in an emotionally-charged rather than logical manner due to their repressed origins. Khalid remains internally torn without resolution between seeing himself as an active agent or passive recipient of violence.

Upon waking, Khalid’s mental unrest is made evident through his insomnia, constant rumination, and compulsive re-reading of Quran verses. Freud argued that obsessional rituals provide defensive gratification of repressed urges, bringing temporary relief without resolving the underlying conflict. For Khalid, intellectual rumination and religious recitation become displacement activities substituting for his inability to consciously and emotionally engage with the forgotten trauma through direct recollection and processing. They represent avoidant defenses against the painful affect still attached to those memories.

Significantly, Khalid is unable to recall any helpful details when directly questioned by his mother about “that day”, emphasizing the degree of repression involved. Freud described psychic repression as the “automatic, unconscious selective mechanism which removes from consciousness memory traces that are linked to representations (ideas, thoughts, affects, etc.) which provoke unpleasure.” For Khalid, consciously accessing the trauma would restore overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and inner conflict too painful for his ego defenses to tolerate at the time.

Repression thus represents an instinctive self-protective process granting temporary relief from conscious suffering by banishing such thoughts, emotions and memories to the unconscious realm where they remain stored yet unable to be voluntarily accessed directly. Khalid remains fixated on his fragmented recollections yet simultaneously blocked from attaining clarity, trapping him between compulsive rumination and avoidance through insomnia, displacement, and dissociation during dreams. Such symptoms illustrate Freud’s concept of the “repetition compulsion” whereby the traumatized individual feels driven to continually relive and reproduce aspects of the original traumatic situation.

Therefore in the novel’s opening, Khalid presents a clear portrait of an individual still psychologically captive to unresolved past trauma through compulsive symptoms, defense mechanisms like repression, and agonizing conflicts within his dissociated unconscious mind. Unable to consciously integrate and assigned meaning to the disturbing memories, Khalid exists in a state of perpetual inner turmoil, his identity and mental stability ransom to intrusive fragments from that one unknown yet formative day in his past.

Apparitions and the Unresolved Self

A recurring and curious element in Khalid’s dreams is the mysterious apparition that silently observes him from the window. Presenting as a shadowy, semi-transparent figure, it never interacts or provides any context, only watches Khalid passively as he endures psychological torment. This enigmatic presence demands deeper analysis and interpretation from a psychoanalytical perspective.

One key way apparitions commonly manifest in dreams and fiction is as personifications of aspects of the dreamer/character’s own psyche. Freud believed the human mind naturally employs symbolic representation and projection upon external entities as a means of expressing and working through internal conflicts outside direct conscious awareness. Therefore, this apparition can reasonably be seen to symbolize some unresolved part of Khalid’s inner psychological experience relating to the trauma.

Given Khalid’s affectively-charged memories center around immense guilt and shame, the figure’s consistent gazing might reflect Khalid’s perpetual inner critic or “superego”, the harsh introjected voice of moral condemnation like an ever-present judge passively watching his mental anguish as penance. However, considering Khalid’s contradictory dream roles, the apparition could alternatively symbolize the part of Khalid that remains yet unknown – his possible guilt-inducing actions during the event which cognitive understanding has not bridged due to repression.

Another interpretation involves the apparition representing the deceased victim whom Khalid may have directly or indirectly wronged, either consciously or unconsciously. The ghostly presence silently bearing witness would express Khalid’s constant mental accompaniment by the figure of the person he hurt and the heinous deed committed against them, reconciling Freudian concepts of survivor’s guilt and the death drive. This interpretation fits with Khalid feeling perpetually observed in an accusatory manner by the apparent spirit.

Perhaps most fitting is viewing the apparition as a combination of the above – a convergence of Khalid’s paralyzing superego condemnation, unknowable role in the crime, and psychic integration of the person killed in a way serving penance through perpetual company and observation without direct engagement. In this sense, the apparition embodies Khalid’s unresolved psychological self; the dissociated aspect containing his guilt, repressed recall, and obligation to make amends for severe harm caused, whether consciously intended or not.

By never communicating or changing expression, the apparition emphasizes how these internal conflicts remain fixedly repressed rather than worked through, eternally condemning Khalid to suffer psychological paralysis, compulsion, and lack of coherent self-understanding due to inability to symbolically reconcile this figure into a contained, integrated whole. Its silent vigil represents continued domination of Khalid’s mental state by his unprocessed trauma until brought to resolution. The apparition magnificently captures Khalid’s fractured inner state through blurred projection upon an enigmatic external symbol.

Apparitions commonly seen in dreams or fiction can offer profound insights into a character’s repressed inner experience when interpreted through the analytical lens of Freudian dream theory and symbolism. In Khalid’s case, the recurring spectre poignantly embodies his dissociated, guilt-ridden psychological self requiring integration before finding inner peace or coherent identity beyond defined by past transgression and its unresolved consequences. Its persistent yet disengaged presence underscores Khalid’s ongoing mental imprisonment due to failure to consciously rectify whatever took place on that ominous day in his forgotten yet formative past.

Mother’s Role in Repression

Within Khalid’s family unit lies influential dynamics shaping his ongoing inability to process traumatic memories on both the conscious and unconscious level. A psychoanalytical reading informed by feminist, postcolonial, and object relations literary theory provides deeper insights into how his mother figure perpetuates repression through intergenerational transmission of dysfunctions.

On the surface, Khalid’s mother discourages recollection by advising “it’s better not to think about it.” This dismissal seems protective but also replicates the unconscious inner silencing occurring within Khalid’s dissociated psyche (Freud, 1991). As Freud argued, meaningful psychoanalytic work requires bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness (Freud, 2003). By obstructing this, Khalid’s mother hinders necessary confrontation with suppressed memories integral to psychological resolution.

Feminist perspectives offer additional context. As Nina Auerbach (1995) notes, the family functions as a “buffer against disruptive realities” like trauma, orchestrating denial to preserve harmony (p.25). Recounting events risks challenging the status quo by exposing truths better left concealed, such as deficiencies in caregiving or culpability within familial roles (Auerbach, 2013, p.103). In diverting Khalid’s questions, his mother maintains a facade of functionality over his valid therapeutic needs.

Psychoanalytically, caregivers also represent formative attachments profoundly shaping developing schemas (Mahler et al., 2000, p.67). Khalid’s ongoing dissociation reflects internalizing his mother’s modeled response patterns encouraging splitting-off from potentially distressing facts (Winnicott, 1958). This transgenerational transmission of dysfunctional defenses hinders Khalid’s capacity for trauma-processing (Macfie et al., 2005). Her words replicating inner silencing on the interpersonal level instill dissociation as Khalid’s primary means of relating to past events.

Through a postcolonial lens, the mother occupies a role of solely possessing knowledge of Khalid’s history and enforcing confusing narratives onto his identity formation (Bhabha, 1994). As the colonizer imposing controlling discourses, she maintains Khalid’s self-divided subjectivity defined by lack of rights over his own story (Bhabha, 2012). Assuming the role of “Other,” Khalid becomes dependent on his mother’s imposed consciousness while deprived of contextual agency necessary for coherent self-understanding (Fanon, 1970).

Dialogue excerpts also demonstrate limitations imposed on truth-seeking through gaps and denial of answers intensifying curiosity yet trapping Khalid between imposed silencing and confusion (Eagleton, 1983). Such brief yet impactful exchanges highlight repressive power dynamics disallowing Khalid direct access to his memories and full realization as an autonomous subject.

The mother’s role thus emerges as multi-layered – on the overt level appearing protective, yet functioning unconsciously to preserve familial faςades, replicate internal silencing patterns, hinder intergenerational patterns of trauma-processing, enforce colonial constructions of Khalid’s identity, and maintain oppressive power imbalances prohibiting resolution (Butler, 1993). Her words show how repression becomes socially embedded through subtle mechanisms infiltrating caregiver-child bonds central to development (Foucault, 1965).

In constraining Khalid’s consciousness development through perpetuating dissociation and confusion rather than context/meaning-making, his mother figure emerges as integral to stalled identity formation stemming from unintegrated trauma (Lacan, 1977). She imposes an authoritative narrative control obstructing his agency and ability to reconcile traumatizing truths into a coherent understanding of self. Khalid remains imprisoned not only by his own fragmented psyche, but an entire interpersonal/social matrix constructed to immobilize confrontation with disruptions to the status quo. A nuanced critical reading reveals multiple ways repression infiltrates Khalid’s familial microcosm on unconscious and systemic levels through supposedly protective caregiver relationships.

Psychological Deterioration

As Khalid’s traumatic memory remains uncognitively integrated due to obstruction of recollection, his mental condition predictably deteriorates over time. His nightmare flashbacks intensify in vividness and frequency, mirroring progressive dominance of the repressed material surfacing through substitutive symptom expression (Freud, 1915). Sleep becomes near impossible due to intrusive traumatic engrams asserting dominance over Khalid’s precarious psyche.

Freud delineated how unprocessed trauma burdens the ego’s resources, overtaxing its capacities for reality-testing, reason, and stability (Freud, 1926). Khalid exhibits increasing dissociation, with traumatic memories infiltrating daytime thought and cognition. His fragmented recollections torment without contextual framing, representing the ego’s impaired ability to synthesize memory coherently due to repression’s obfuscations.

Khalid resorts to obsessive rumination, vainly striving for recollection’s elusive clarity through compulsive cognitive exertions. However, rumination provides only temporary defense against burgeoning affect, amplifying mental anguish (Freud, 1909). His mounting psychological distress mirrors hysteria stemming from long-term dissociation of intolerable ideational/emotional contents. Defense mechanisms become increasingly extreme and substitute gratifications of repressed wishes ever more pathological under accumulating pressure of internal conflict (Freud, 1894).

As repression’s toll mounts, Khalid regresses from willful agent to dissociated victim of intrusive flashbacks. His deteriorating ego struggles maintaining a stable, continuous sense of self vs swarming traumatic residues from the past assaulting his tenuous present stability (Freud, 1923). Khalid dissociates between contradictory subject positions without integrating a cohesive identity, signifying ego fragmentation (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988).

This aligns with Lacan’s (1977) mirror stage – Khalid’s ego formation facing traumatic rupture before consolidating a unified self-image. Without resolution, his psyche secondarily represses engagement with external objects/relations as anxiety mounts regarding competence/control over inner/outer reality (Winnicott, 1960). Khalid withdraws into the auxiliary clasp of his mother figure, clinging to what little psychic organization remains while his inner/outer worlds spiral into chaos without delineated boundaries.

Viewed through trauma theory lenses, Khalid exemplifies prolonged effects without intervention for successful meaning-making and integration of the event into autobiographical memory (van der Kolk, 1996). His increasing compulsivity, intrusive re-experiencing and numbed dissociation reflects unprocessed trauma organizing his psychological experience (Herman, 1997). Literature enhances understanding by illustrating in vivid characters how trauma transforms identity, psychopathologizes defenses, and warps normal development absent resolution (Caruth, 1996).

Khalid sinks into equivalence between past and present without objective distance from the event, subjectively reliving through compulsive repetitions what his rational ego no longer consciously grasps (Laub & Podell, 1995). His harrowing screams punctuating the climax demonstrate both intrusive re-experiencing and ego breakdown’s outer limit as defenses crumble under trauma’s swallowed enormity. Khalid hauntingly represents uncountable real victims of unresolved pain leaching vitality yet begging outward catharsis denied by social silencing of inner torment. His shattering ordeal powerfully illustrates prolonged trauma’s psychological devastation when met solely by obstructed catharsis rather than facilitated integration.

Khalid’s Deteriorating Mental State

As Khalid’s psychological hardship intensifies without resolution, his mental state deteriorates further into a fragmented state of near total dissociation and identity fracture. His psyche splits between contradictory roles as perpetrator and victim played out in disturbing nightmares depicting his unresolved inner turmoil (Freud, 1900).

This dissociative process signifies severe disturbances in ego boundaries and reality-testing abilities due to prolonged impact of unintegrated trauma (Hartocollis, 2010). Khalid loses grip on external reality as inner psychic reality dominated by repetitive trauma engrams renders him psychologically paralyzed (Bion, 1967). His pleading cries reflect the ego’s last ditch defense screaming for containment against unthinkable psychic pain shredding integrity of internal structures (Winnicott, 1960).

Unable to differentiate past from present, Khalid regresses to earlier developmental levels as defenses crumble (Freud, 1914). Regressing to dissociated trauma serves defensive aim of avoiding intolerable affect while sacrificing coherent existence (Freud, 1936). Clinging desperately to his mother invokes her early role as maternal regulator enabling equilibrium between inner/outer worlds during pre-Oedipal attachment formation (Mahler et al., 2000).

However, with developmental processes arrested, the mother fails providing adequate external scaffolding as dependency remains fixated rather than evolving through stages (Winnicott, 1971). Khalid’s splitting reflects pathological dissociative processes disrupting stable object relations vital for ego consolidation during formative years (Fairbairn, 1952). Constant “not-me” identities assume dominance over the integrated “me” as inner/outer differentiation disintegrates under the weight of unbearable psychic truth crushing his vulnerable self (Little, 1981).

Symbolically, Khalid embodies the psychological effects of trauma dismantling organized ego and self-structure (van der Kolk, 2005). Modern trauma theory explains how inability to verbally share the story paralyzes integration of past/present, affect/cognition due to disconnections in linguistic self-narrative providing autobiographical continuity and coherence over time (Herman, 1997).

Khalid represents countless victims of historical/interpersonal trauma breaking down core identity scaffolding as defensive splitting preserves tattered scraps of personhood imperfectly shielding a decimated interior self barred from finding articulation (Caruth, 1995). His deteriorated psyche captures the quintessential suffering surrounding collective trauma destroying lives through extreme dissociative states symptomatic of comprehensive societal denial and invalidation of private torment (Laub & Auerhahn, 1993).

Khalid’s harrowing depiction epitomizes literature’s power illuminating how identity metamorphoses under siege of pain too immense for words yet demanding utter witness countering social erasure. His fractured being demands empathic containment transcending what reality withholds, symbolizing collective shadows begrimed yet fundamental to healing what violence has splintered in humanity’s shared condition (Bion, 1962). Khalid’s shattering ordeal warns how trauma left to fester in isolation insidiously infects the social fabric through shattered souls inhabiting bodies yet denied their deepest cries for meaning and release from darkness’ grip.


Overall, “I Named Her Fatima” offers a poignant portrayal of how past traumas can devastate the human psyche if not consciously acknowledged and worked through. Through vivid character development and symbolic dream scenes, the novel effectively demonstrates classic Freudian concepts of repression, the unconscious mind, splitting of identity, and substitute symptoms emerging without resolution of unconscious conflicts. Khalid represents countless real individuals haunted by confusing, fragmented recollections of the past which they lack insight or ability to integrate into a cohesive sense of self. The novel serves as both a work of art and a reminder of trauma’s powerful yet often invisible effects, making it an excellent subject for psychoanalytic literary critique.

Gone, What’s Gone – Fatima Al-Ashabi. Trans: Hatem Al-Shamea

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