Teaching the Landscape of Terror: How to Prepare Students for Disturbing Texts


  • Alexandra Pett University Canada West


TTrauma Across Generations, Graphic Novels, Residential Schools and Survival, Catharsis, Artificial Intelligence, Student Fears


In the context of international armed conflict and human rights infringements, students are increasingly faced with violence in media and written text. Is it beneficial to view violence in film or to read about it in fiction or does the vicarious experience of violence lead to aggressive behavior in the responders? Drama theory suggests the cleansing impact of violence and heroism on stage (catharsis) whereas communication scholars today point to the negative perspective. To date, there is extensive research on the impact of violence on television on both children and adults, but less is available on violence and the post-COVID world, especially on the war scenes from the Ukraine and how students understand trauma when they are often within a landscape of terror. In the past, students in a literature class might find themselves viewing Art Spiegelman’s graphic two volume novel, Maus, but that horrific depiction of the Holocaust in cartoons is not permitted in some American schools today. Although many educators continue to think that reading or viewing stories distracts students from dealing with their real-life experiences, the opposite is likely true. Stories allow us to confront situations in a controlled environment that would otherwise be unapproachable. Within stories are moral lessons that can shape students’ experience. The purpose of this research is to explore strategies that would help students deal with responses, both emotional and analytic, to the mediated and written versions of traumatic events. Text based analysis will focus on intergenerational trauma in Michelle Good’s prize-winning novel (2020) Five Little Indians. Preliminary interviews with students indicate fears around social media, dark aspects of the web, and ugly human/animal/machine representations.

Author Biography

Alexandra Pett, University Canada West

Dr. Alexandra Pett has taught English and communications courses at universities and colleges from coast to coast in Canada. For sixteen years, she has worked with University Canada West, as writing coach, chair of Arts and Science, full time faculty, and at present as an adjunct professor. In the last six years, she has taught with Yorkville University. Her background also includes l8 years at Mount Royal College and University (chair of English department and associate dean of Arts).
Her Ph.D. dissertation was in American Fiction Studies; she has published on global short fiction, British, Canadian, and American fiction, autobiography, life writing, sustainability, war novels, online learning, technical communications, and technical writing. She is a former Fulbright scholar and has published a book Transforming Selves: Evolving Traditions in Autobiography.