Truddi Chase (& The Troops) died March 10, 2010.
Click here to read their obituary and sign their memorial guestbook.

Trauma, Testimony, and Fictions of Truth:
Narrative in When Rabbit Howls

Journal article by Deborah Carlin
Originally appeared in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 37, 1995.

When the woman named Truddi Chase appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show during the promotional tour for the book When Rabbit Howls. in the late 1980s, the subject of the show was not, surprisingly, the ninety-two multiple personalities she allegedly possessed, but rather it was the horrific childhood sexual abuse that she endured for fourteen years from her stepfather. Using her own unique brand of relentless delicacy, Winfrey prodded the woman into revealing episode after episode of sadistic abuse. Her object, as she summed up near the end of the show, was to alert her viewing and studio audience to the fact that child abuse was real and did occur even though society preferred to immerse itself in collective denial. Herself a survivor of child sexual abuse, Winfrey tearfully exhorted her audience to become aware of the pain and torment that child sexual abuse inflicts on children and not to turn away in either ignorance or fear if abuse is suspected. What was performed that afternoon on national television, in the tale that the woman named Truddi Chase recounted and in Winfrey's own acknowledgment of herself as a survivor, was testimony, the transformation of an unspoken, private trauma into a public story that bears witness to and offers proof of what has heretofore remained unspeakable.

Such transformation is, according to Judith Herman, literally the effect of narration; in "the telling, the trauma becomes a testimony" (1992,181). Having both "a private dimension, which is confessional and spiritual, and a public aspect, which is political and judicial" (ibid.), Herman argues, testimonies adhere intuitively to the belief that the act of telling is potentially reparative, both personally and politically. Narrative functions both as a tool and as a process through which one begins to consolidate and to reconstitute the self. For it is the "action of telling a story,' in the safety of a protected relationship," according to Herman, that "can actually produce a change in the abnormal processing of the traumatic memory. With this transformation of memory comes relief of many of the major symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The psychoneurosis induced by terror can apparently be reversed through the use of words" (183).

Narration can be reparative for survivors precisely because the experience of trauma itself deconstructs the human capacity to recall and shape events through language. As Dori Laub (1992), among others, has theorized, "Massive trauma precludes its registration; the observing and recording mechanisms of the human mind are temporarily knocked out, malfunction" (57). Enacting the process of narration, then, restores mastery for the trauma survivor, not over the trauma necessarily, but rather over the absence of memory and of language that is an effect of the trauma. Traumatic events, as Shoshona Felman (1992) has noted, are always '"in excess of our frames of reference"; they can be neither '"constructed as knowledge nor assimilated into full cognition" (5). In piecing together the fragments of memory, affect, sound, smell, and bodily sensation, the trauma survivor assembles a narrative of his or her heretofore unavailable, because unutterable, experience. And this narrative -- whether it recounts the experience of Holocaust survivors, of witnesses to the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of self-liberated slaves, of victims of political imprisonment and torture, of participants in combat or civilians who have endured war, or of the survivors of childhood sexual abuse -- is what we refer to under the broader term of testimony.

Because of trauma's disruption of language and memory processing, as well as its stubborn resistance to narrative iteration, testimony as a genre cannot be anything but a narrative form in search of its own exposition. In telling itself, it must contend at every instant with what it has been, and perhaps still may be, unable to tell. According to Felman (1992), what testimony cannot ever achieve is

a completed statement, a totalizable account of those [traumatic] events. In the testimony, language is in process and in trial[;] it does not possess itself as a conclusion, as the contestation of a verdict or the self-transparency of knowledge. Testimony is, in other words, a discursive practice, as opposed to a pure theory. (5)

Yet we must, I think, distinguish between the fragmented oral narrative that unfolds in a psychotherapist's office, or in the presence of any safe and sympathetic listening audience, and the written narrative that must assume what James Young calls "the mantle of coherence" (16) in order to make sense to a reading audience whose listening capacity is confined to the text itself. If oral narrative can mitigate the trauma of unassimilable events for the survivor, written narrative must, a priori, assimilate those vents into a logical linguistic structure if it in any way seeks to effect the transformation from private experience into public recognition.

The public aspect of testimony, which Herman characterizes as "political and judicial" (1992, 181), bears a significant relationship to the legal and judicial connotations of declaration to which testimony, in its etiology, alludes. To give testimony is to offer evidence or proof in support of a fact or an assertion; as a narrative text, testimony operates on the certitude that one can access truth through a narration of experience. It uses narrative to speak the unspeakable, to dramatize experiences that confirm what is most rapacious and cruel about human nature. Testimony asks us to believe what we do not want to believe about ourselves, our capacities, and our histories. Its narratives exist as eloquent contradiction to the denial that so often surrounds public recognition of traumatic events, policies, and practices, such as the current controversy over "false memory" or the refusal of roughly one-quarter of the United States population to believe that the Holocaust ever really happened. Literary testimony does not, however, privilege experience as if it is unconstructed and unmediated -- personally, psychologically, socially, culturally, and dynamically. Testimonies, and those who analyze them, must delicately mediate between the necessity of figurative language that all narratives, by their nature, employ and the rhetoric of fact (this did occur; this happened to me) which constitutes the political purpose of these particular texts.

The literature of multiple personality to which When Rabbit Howls (1987) belongs1 shares the burden of belief with which testimony, as a genre, contends, though with perhaps even more pointed questions as to its veracity. For while history has recourse to certain facts -- the crematoria at death camps, for instance, or nineteenth-century illustrations of the metal devices used to inflict punishment and pain on enslaved African Americans -- multiple personality possesses no corresponding material evidence. Aside from whatever injuries and scars may have been inflicted on the body itself (since "97 percent of individuals with multiple personality have a documented history of child abuse, usually severe and prolonged, and in the majority of the cases this included childhood sexual abuse, usually incest" (Rivera, 1989, 241), multiple personality remains a chronic dissociative defense of the mind. Owing to its prevalence, in a predominantly female population (about 90 percent) and its etiology in child sexual abuse, multiple personalities continue to be a highly controversial and much debated diagnosis in psychiatric and psychoanalytic circles. Those clinicians who deny the existence of multiple personalities contend that it is a condition that is either misdiagnosed or iatrogenically created by therapists whose clients reap enormous secondary gains (e.g., social encouragement, public attention, and even financial rewards) from the therapist's belief in and treatment of multiple selves (Kenny, 1986; Fahy, 988; Aldridge-Morris, 1989; Mersky, 1992; Simpson, 1989; Spanos et al., 1985). Proponents of multiple personality, conversely, argue that it is a valid psychiatric condition with a distinct and consistent presentation of core symptoms and behaviors (Putnam, 1989; Ross, 1989). They insist that the persistent skepticism of a conservative medical establishment (Dell, 1988) is both obdurate and unwarranted, and they suggest that the iatrogenic explanation of multiple personality has been embraced "without a single supporting study" or "a single documented case of iatrogenic false positive MPD [Multiple Personality Disorder] reported in the entire world literature" (Ross, 1989, 301). Within the psychiatric literature, the question of whether multiple personality is real is as commonplace as issues related to clinical treatment.

Yet in addition to the burden of belief, testimonies of multiple personality also must shoulder what I would term the burden of representation, the dilemma of how to inscribe fragmentation, the discontinuity of memory, and the rupture of linear, narrative consciousness within a text that must achieve some kind of coherence in order to be persuasive, engender empathy, and effect belief. Indeed, these narratives face the peculiar challenge of attempting to represent multiplicity in a way that conveys its intrapsychic discontinuity and fragmentation without re-creating these results in the narratives themselves. Such texts would be virtually unreadable; the representation of internal division requires a remarkable amount of both control and narrative cohesion.2 Many testimonies of multiple personality solve this dilemma through the employment of a homodiegetic narrator (the clinician as narrator) or of an external focalizer (a narrating perspective outside the therapeutic dyad who presents the course of discovery of the multiple selves and the therapeutic treatment of them).3 For first-person accounts,4 however, the predicament remains of how to impart multiplicity convincingly.

The majority of first-person accounts of multiple personality (many of which are co-authored with therapists) represent their multiplicity through a posterior narration in which a measure of distance from the multiplicity has already been achieved because of the narrator's implied integration, "a synthesis of the previously separate elements of each alter into a more unified global personality structure" (Putnam, 1989, 301). Indeed, this posterior narrative perspective facilitates more cohesion within the internal focalization. Because the narrator has integrated his or her separate and dissociated parts of the self, the internally focalized narrative is fixed, utilizing one primary point of view from which it describes its former variable points of view (different perspectives employed to present different events, depending on the alter occupying the consciousness). In the following passage from The Flock: the Autobiography of a Multiplc Personality(1991), for instance, Joan Frances Casey, the book's author nd narrator, recounts a therapeutic insight internally focalized through Jo, one of her twenty-four alters:

Jo stopped, struck by a new understanding. "You know, I don't have any preschool memories of being alone with my mother." Now that she thought about it, that was strange. Although both her parents had worked full-time since she was three, she had very early memories of being with her father, and no memories of being alone with her mother. She remembered baby-sitters, but not her mother.

Jo dismissed her new insight. Her father wouldn't let her be hurt. Jo did recall that one time when she was three or four her father had asked how she had gotten a new bruise on her leg. Mother's explanation seemed reasonable even now: "Joan Frances is a very clumsy child." (31)

The exclusively past tense of this passage exhibits the posterior narrative consciousness that predominates the entire autobiography. And this subsequent narrative perspective is a psychologically integrated one; by the end of the text, Casey '"finally calls herself integrated" (288). All of the first-person narratives of multiple personality, with one exception, have been authored by former multiples. Psychologically and structurally, an integrated narrative consciousness demonstrates its control over the internal focalization of its previously fragmented alter selves. It represents a previous multiplicity from a unitary narrative perspective.

The one exception among these integrated testimonies of multiple personality is When Rabbit Howls (1987). What makes it unique is its status as the only text that is not co-authored by a multiple in which multiple authors are self-consciously registered within its narration. Written not by Truddi Chase (though hers is the name that appears in bibliographic citations), but by "The Troops for Truddi Chase," When Rabbit Howls dramatizes literally Barthes (1977) notion of "The Death of the Author" in its composite and even systemic narration. It does not simply describe multiplicity, it inscribes it. More than simply trying to persuade the reader to believe in the reality of multiplicity, When Rabbit Howls dramatizes the personality system's recognition of the nonexistence of any unitary self.

To link testimonies of severe childhood sexual abuse and multiple personality within a tradition of narratives about trauma is an act that, as Jonathan Culler notes, "naturalizes" these texts by association, bringing them "into relation with a type of discourse or model which is already, in some sense, natural and legible" (1975, 138). And like many other texts within this broadly formulated tradition, When Rabbit Howls also adopts particularized strategies of belief through which it attests to the truthfulness of its subject matter. Its narrative, for instance, is framed by both an introduction and an epilogue authored by Robert A. Phillips, the psychologist who worked with the Troops through the woman named Truddi Chase. Granted authority by his title of "Ph.D." displayed on the book's cover, Phillips's account of his clients' history and course of psychoanalysis authenticates the autobiographical narrative contained within. It replicates the tradition of nineteenth-century American slave narratives, such as Frederick Douglass' Narrative (1845) or Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl(1861), in which William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Child, respectively, both frame and exist in relation to the texts as signifiers of legitimacy and veracity: I know this person; his/her story is true. You, the reader, can and must believe it.

Phillips's introduction functions in a remarkably similar way. He characterizes the work as an autobiography that may threaten the boundaries of what might seem both reasonable and rational: "For many this book will seem both unbelievable and frightening. It challenges much of what is commonly believed about human personality, and is far beyond most people's experience. It may even seem to have the flavor of science fiction" (viii). In doing so, he addresses directly the resistance with which many implied readers meet traumatic narratives, a resistance that manifests itself as the inability, and even the refusal, to accept the reality of human cruelty and perversion as it exists within the narratives and, indeed, in life. Moreover, he seems to anticipate the resistance readers may have to this particular narrative, especially in its uncanny multiplicity. His introduction then attempts to "naturalize" the narrative by providing the psychoanalytic definition of multiple personality and its history as a recognized disorder, followed by his overview of the woman named Truddi Chase's family history. Phillips also self-consciously contextualizes this story within the moral imperative to confront the social wrongs perpetuated by child sexual abuse. This is not, he suggests, merely a fantastic exercise in psychology and autobiography. When Rabbit Howls aspires to be a document of both psychological (multiplicity) and social (the sequelae of child sexual abuse) truth whose narrative might possibly effect some kind of substantive transformation in the recognition and the treatment of survivors. It aspires, in other words, to be a testimony.

Phillips's introduction is followed by an "Authors' Note," in which the Troops identify "this book as a self-imposed part of our therapy process. It is the factual documentation taken literally from our journals, our combined recall which we tape-recorded, and our sessions, which were videotaped " (xxv). Several relevant points are worth noting in this brief passage. The first is the acknowledgment of multiplicity embedded in the plurality of "Authors"' and in the consistent use of the plural possessive modifier, "our." Multiplicity is foregrounded. as the perspective through which the text will be narrated. Of equal interest is the narrative's diction, stressing again the veracity of what is being reported. We are told that the narrative is a "factual documentation" taken "literally" from sources chronicled on a daily basis (journals), and also from sources that use technology (tape recording and video taping) to capture an unmediated record of what has transpired. What has taken place, at least in the therapy, can be verified and documented in ways that foster believability. Finally, the passage alludes to its chief determinant of plot, namely, the therapeutic process itself. Indeed, it is this process that constitutes the common denominator of virtually all narratives about multiple personality, including When Rabbit Howls.

Virtually all plots of multiple personality narratives are structured by the recall of memory. Indeed, this essentially analeptic structure -- narrative anachronies that evoke events that transpire before the present moment of chronological narration -- is one of the chief strategies of representation employed by such texts. Multiple personality testimonies, the vast majority of which locate their etiology in childhood sexual abuse, function in a manner similar to that of mystery novels, in which the origin of the crime (in this case, the crime[s] against a child) is sought and ultimately revealed, restoring balance to the social order and coherence to the chronology of events that has composed the narrative. In narratives of multiple personality, this mystery is investigated through the therapeutic process. Phillips's introduction to When Rabbit Howls, for instance, describes the process of both therapy and narrative that produced the text as testimony:

Initially the manuscript focused only on the memories of the sexual abuse. Then the focus changed to a description of the therapeutic process and how the memories of abuse came and the awareness of the multiple others grew. Writing this book has been an important part of the unfolding "healing" process in that it became a means of integrating awareness and spurring new awareness by opening new memories. (xvii)

Broadly stated, the prevailing structure of this and other texts of multiple personality is an organization arising from the interruption of the "present" moment of therapeutic investigation, through analepsis, a "past" moment of recovered memory. While on one level these anachronies of memory do interrupt the chronology of the narrative, they simultaneously provide greater cohesion in their function of pulling together strands of events and memories that have heretofore remained fragmented, psychologically and narratively. This transformation of past events, frozen in traumatic stasis into some form of integrated narrative, is one of the most compelling effects of testimony's therapeutic nature.

Yet in addition to the recovery of memory and the revelation of the crimes committed against the person named Truddi Chase, When Rabbit Howls foregrounds, as Phillips indicates in the quotation above, the recognition of multiplicity within the text and within the psychic structure of the Troops themselves. Within the text, multiplicity is signaled in various ways, usually through a variable, internal focalization in which characters outside the multiple system are able to read multiplicity. In the following example, visual indicators are emphasized as one way to see the enactment of multiplicity:

Jeannie Lawson sat straight up in her chair. "We." The woman had said it repeatedly. The references, Jeannie felt, might not have been to the woman's classmates as a child, or to members of her immediate family . . . but to members of an even more "immediate" family. Jeannie ticked off the changes that anyone else might regard as simply part of an animated manner: hands that gestured broadly, that lay calm in the lap and then moved almost sensually through the tumbled blond hair; the voice that was never one but many; expressions that ranged from businesslike to street smart and childlike and all the gradations in between. The eyes. No one person had that many pairs of eyes. (41)

Jeannie Lawson, who is herself an integrated multiple, recognizes gesture, affect, inflection, and gaze as readable signifiers, of multiplicity. Her expertise guides the reader in apprehending what would otherwise remain invisible, what "anyone else might read as simply part of an animated manner." Language too reveals the multiple, as in Lawson's bodily response to presumably one person referring to herself as "we." Throughout When Rabbit Howls, language often demonstrates its inadequacy when attempting to represent a complex multiplicity:

It seemed that one minute he heard "her" stating point blank the stepfather's intentions, as if "she" had some recall of the incest and the events surrounding it. The next minute "she" would break into her own conversation, exhibiting no knowledge at all about the stepfather or anyone else in the family. At those times, what he ran up against was a blank face, a doubting look, an unawareness of things discussed in past sessions or even moments before. (129)

The pronominal confusion in this passage is signaled by the use of quotation marks around both "her" and "she," as if calling into doubt both the first-person status of the words as well as the shifting ground of signification that apparently eludes our language capacity. To whom does the text refer as "her" or as "she"? Ultimately, this question is one that the text will take up as its most uncanny revelation.

The woman named Truddi Chase is the one who presents herself for therapy at Phillips's office. Yet nowhere in the text does she merit a name (unlike the Outrider, the Gatekeeper, the Buffer, Olivia, Twelve, Mean Joe, Ean, etc.) or lay claim to any identifiable component of a self. I have suggested that When Rabbit Howls is unique among multiple personality testimonies because of its self-conscious attempt to inscribe multiplicity itself within, and as part of, its narrative structure. This text, like many other narratives about multiple personality, organizes itself around the multiple valences of recovered memories, remembered crimes, and the revelation of selves as the driving plot determinants; but unlike most other MPD narratives, When Rabbit Howls reverses the customary design wherein a protagonist (the author and multiple) discovers that he or she shares a consciousness composed of variously defined selves who learn to work together toward a common goal, most often integration and the establishment of a nondissociated way of coping in the world. When Rabbit Howls instead orients itself toward the discovery late in its own text that its protagonist, the woman named Truddi Chase who presents herself for therapy, does not exist except as a mask through which other selves speak and interact in the world. The name Truddi Chase is, in other words, an empty signifier in this text.

That When Rabbit Howls arranges itself around the dissolution, rather than the aggregation, of its protagonist, makes it unique within multiple personality literature. Moreover, the plight of the woman named Truddi Chase, who exists in ignorance and confusion as to how the system actually operates, exactly mirrors the reader's unfamiliarity with multiplicity and, perhaps, even the refusal to believe that such a thing exists. Throughout the text, the phrase "Because for you, there isn't any more," haunts the woman named Truddi Chase with an alarming regularity. At first, neither she nor the reader has any clue about what this disturbing litany portends. But as the narrative progresses, the realization dawns upon the woman, the therapist, and the reader that whatever former structures of self have made sense in the past, none of them are adequate for explaining the simultaneous existence and nonexistence of the woman named Truddi Chase. "Her" mind, as one of The Troop members named the Interpreter explains to Phillips, "is only a tunnel, an avenue to each of us when we choose to enter or 'flood' it, on occasion" (150). Known in psychoanalytic terms as the host personality,5 the woman has virtually no personality to speak of; rather, she functions within the system as "merely the tool of the Troop member who, among other things, directs her as the facade" (151).

The nonexistence of a consciousness through which much of the text's information is conveyed creates a curious, even mind-boggling, contradiction with which this narrative must contend. As the system gradually makes the woman aware of its existence and her liminal role within it, "she" signals, in a conversation with "her" therapist, how this dynamic has affected the process of writing:

It's really hard in the manuscript to convey me, how the thoughts and feelings of the others just . . . flow through me while I'm empty. The process, as you call it -- sometimes describing it makes everybody really angry. It's like we write for two days and spend six trying to make things clear. Do you, at least, understand more now? Do you understand that at this moment -- as always -- the others are flowing through me with their thoughts? (296-97)

What the woman named Truddi Chase describes in this passage is a narrative essentially dialogic in nature -- characterized by multiple consciousnesses, none of which unifies or possesses more authority than the others. Unlike other multiple personality narratives, this perspective is not fixed; it does not originate from a unified or postintegrated perspective named Truddi Chase. Indeed it cannot because she does not really exist. Phillips makes this explicit in his introduction:

It is important for the reader to realize that the book is not the product of one person. Most especially, it is not the product of the firstborn child. The Troops cooperated to bring back the memories and compose the pages. It has been a way of sorting out and making sense of a very complex series of experiences, a way for various persons to reveal themselves and to explain themselves. The book became a vehicle by which they could work together in a common, concrete effort to tell their stories and to share their awarenesses. Over time they all have had to decide whether they were willing to cooperate and then decide how to do so. The original manuscript appeared to be disjointed, and avoided reference to anything sexual. It displayed significantly different handwritings and expressed differing conflicting concerns. As new levels of awareness were reached the Troops rewrote the manuscript incorporating the new memories that surfaced. Over the period of the first three years of therapy the manuscript was rewritten a number of times, and each time new awareness of the details of the sexual abuse were incorporated. In each writing, what began as a skeletal outline became filled out until the manuscript as it is presented in this book was completed. (xvi-xvii)

As the passage above suggests, When Rabbit Howls utilizes a variable internal focalization to represent the perspectives, feelings, and information of the Troops' numerous alters, sometimes shifting perspective many times within one paragraph:

The woman didn't know there was a war on: Catherine sat hoping Morgan [a man who the Troops dated for a while] wouldn't muss her hair or smudge the expert makeup with one of his slow-moving and, to her, annoyingly damp kisses; Sixteen yearned to be touched, caressed, warm; Twelve perceived in him a father figure and wanted to listen as he talked and smoked, reminding her of the child's father years ago. The woman stood outside it all, wishing the off-balance feeling would go away, and wondering why there was a sudden compulsion to tell him and risk rejection. (113)

The process of shifting from the woman, to Catherine, to Sixteen, to Twelve, and finally back to the woman mimics the occasionally rapid switching that characterizes multiple personality. Thus it not only describes multiplicity but inscribes it as well. Other examples occur throughout the text in italicized passages, signaling their locus in what the Troops identify as " the Tunnel," the inner walls of consciousness within which intrasystem communication takes place.

Yet while When Rabbit Howls may be dialogic in theory, in practice it adopts a surprisingly monologic narrative perspective. In the "Authors' Note," the Troops explain that they chose to employ the "Third person singular . . . because there is no 'one' author here with total memory of the abuse" (xxvi). This third-person narration functions as a nonfocalized or omniscient narrative perspective through which the disparate voices, memories, fears, and desires of the Troop members are filtered into a coherent narrative. Rather than signifying the successful psychological integration of several alters into a unified self, however, the monologic narrative perspective in When Rabbit Howls is essentially systemic, employing the "third-person singular" as a conventional facade in precisely the same way that the Troop members employ the woman named Truddi Chase as a mask to the outside world. This narrative facade, evident in such utterances as, "In the woman's mind that night but separate and apart from it, a conversation took place" (60), also serves to "naturalize" the reading experience of the text. It fosters the sense of omniscient power in its ability to move freely among the minds of the Troop members and of those characters (the therapist, Jeannie Lawson, etc.) who exist outside the Troop formation. No matter how uncanny, how distressing, how unbelievable the material contained inside the text may be, such a narrative formulation achieves a remarkable sense of both coherence and control.

Narrative, in other words, allows the multiple system to speak with one voice. The writing process itself -- the endless revisions during a threeyear span as more memories became available to the system, the frustration of the Troops spending six days of labor in an effort to make two days worth of writing "clear" to the implied reader -- mirrors the therapeutic objective to decrease dissociative fragmentation by encouraging the system members to work together cooperatively. Given the Troop members' steadfast refusal to integrate into one personality, the monologic narrative perspective they work to attain in this text may be the closest they ever come to psychic consolidation.

Clarity is also paramount in this text because of its self-conscious need to testify. Throughout the book, numerous references attest to the Troops' determination "to see their efforts in print, to dissolve the mystery and myth surrounding both incest and multiple personality " (170). They even, at one point, show the manuscript to the woman's ex-husband and are heartened when they realize that "Norman, a layman without Stanley's [the Troops' pseudonym for Phillips] background, understood, merely because he's been shown the actuality of it by the manuscript. There was hope" (294). Once the trauma has been told, has been converted into narrative, the public recognition to which testimony aspires is now possible. Nevertheless, the Troops worry that their therapist will be unable to "verify our reality" when the text is published and publicly scrutinized because "we realise how strange we sound" (334). His response privileges the authenticity with which most therapists regard testimony: "There's nothing to verify. . . . What's in the pages is reality for you. Someday, through books like yours, the public will understand that reality" (334-35). Phillips seems to rely on the assumption that this testimony possesses what Donald Spence (1982) has characterized as sufficient "narrative truth":

Narrative truth can be defined as the criterion we use to describe when a certain experience has been captured to our satisfaction; it depends on continuity and closure and the extent to which the fit of the pieces takes on an aesthetic finality. Narrative truth is what we have in mind when we say that such and such is a good story, that a given explanation carries conviction, that one solution to a mystery must be true. Once a given construction has acquired narrative truth, it becomes just as real as any other kind of truth; this new reality becomes a significant part of the psychoanalytic cure. (31)

If, as Spence suggests, narrative truth "depends on continuity and closure," When Rabbit Howls, it must be confessed, accomplishes this in a most peculiar fashion. For the text possesses not one, but two endings, each self-consciously scripted as a fiction. The first of these endings represents the climax of the revelations of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse that constitute one of the plots of the text. In this ending, the Troops decide to kill the stepfather as retribution for the crimes he has committed against them. Yet this murder is an entirely fictional one in that it is narrated to the Troops' children as a Christmas present by Ean, perhaps the most powerful and far-reaching alter in the system.6 Labeled by the Troops and by their therapist as the "last" and "final chapter" (357) of the text, the closure achieved in this ending has both a psychic and a legal logic to it. Psychologically, the tale of revenge acts to release some of the overwhelming rage that the system feels toward the sadistic stepfather, especially in its neat parallel of the Troops inserting capsules (containing maggots, tapeworms, etc.) into the stepfather's orifices, the effects of which will replicate the internal torture undergone by the Troops themselves. Legally, this ending provides a closure of justice to the crimes that have been committed and gone unpunished for so long. Through narration, this time a self-consciously constructed fiction, the Troops do achieve a convincing closure to their story. The crimes against them have been remembered, and if not solved, at least integrated into a systemic, nondissociated consciousness. Moreover, the perpetrator has been punished for his crimes; order is reestablished because the Troops have claimed their power over both the abuse and the abuser. They now possess the authority to shape their story into whatever permutations they wish. The process of telling, of writing, and of narrating, has empowered them.Yet curiously, this "final chapter" is not the ending to When Rabbit Howls. The tale of revenge told to the Troops' child-alters (357-64) is succeeded in the text by an interchange between Ean, the tale teller, and Mean Joe, a protective, African American alter (modeled after Mean Joe Green, the Pittsburgh Steelers football player). What transpires has a fairy-tale quality about it that seems somewhat discordant with the concerns about truth and believability voiced elsewhere in the text:

In the darkness of the night as it enveloped the warehouse, there had come the sound of hooves from a long way off . . . then nearer. "Listen," Mean Joe said.
The Irishman smiled. His eyes got brighter. "I'd' na hafta," he said. "She comes from a distance as great as m'self -- m'lady, m'companion."
And she did. The Irishman moved aside to let Mean Joe see: a lady with raven hair and a body as slender as a single stalk of cornflower -- who shook out her skirts as she stepped down from the waiting carriage.
Mean Joe was looking into a forest glen as dark as this midnight hour, with only the moon for light. In the glen, the carriage and eight horses had halted, on a road with no beginning, no end. Mean Joe heard the horses snorting, their hooves pawing the earth with relentless urgency.
"The horses," Mean Joe said with a note of astonishment in his voice. "They're not like the horses of today. They're built for . . .
"F'r speed, Mean Joe. The hearses 'r' built f 'r speed."
And the Irishman was moving now, in a line straight as an arrow, toward the lady with raven hair.
Mean Joe's voice followed him.
"You can go," Mean Joe called, "but you can't stay. Ean, there's barely a minute until this day is over!"
The Irishman did not stop. He merely looked back with the expression of a thousand warriors down through time.
"Who," he asked, "d'y' think elongates the time when the Outrider plays her music? Barely a minute will do. I'll be wringin' it dry, Mean Joe." (365-66)

It is hard to know what exactly to make of this passage, the allusiveness of which surely seems to be part of its point. In his epilogue, Phillips speculates that the text may be forcing us to peer "into a world of which we cannot conceive, and are privileged to go beyond our senses into the world of the spiritual" (368). Certainly Ean seems to be possessed with the ability to transcend time and even, in some sense, the mental boundaries of the multiple system itself since he rides off and away from our only point of reference. Yet there is something utterly conventional about this ending as well, despite its uncanny obscurity. For in the most timehonored of senses, the lovers are (re)united at the end of this tale, forming the romantic, heterosexual dyad that usually signals the end to tales of separation, division, and the triumph over enemies who would keep such intimates apart. Could this too be some movement toward a fictional integration that the system substitutes for a psychological one, the usual ending of such narratives? Whatever its intention, its effect is oxymoronic in that it "naturalizes" the uncanny, which is, of course, what this particular narrative has been trying to do all along. The text ends with both a fictional murder and a fictional union. Perhaps in self-consciously foregrounding the fact that Ean has given the children the story that they so desperately want to hear as their ending, the reader is being alerted to the possibility that we too are receiving the story we most want to hear, one in which what has heretofore been forcibly divided is now reunited. Though multiplicity remains the organizing principle of the narrative, encompassing various strategies of representation that include the multiple endings to this text, the authors of When Rabbit Howls recognize the conventions of singularity and naturalization within which they must struggle to articulate their own unique testimony.

University of Massachusetts Amherst


1. Multiple personality was the name given to this dissociative disorder in both the "DSM III" and the DSM III-R (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987). Most recently, in the DSM IV (American Psychiatric Press, 1994), multiple personality has been renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder. Because When Rabbit Howls was written and published before this last change, I shall continue to use multiple personality as the psychiatric classification, as well as the most textually accurate descriptor, of the woman named Truddi Chase.

There are, at present, over twenty contemporary testimonies about multiple personality disorder: The Three Faces of Eve (Thigpen and Cleckley, 1957); Sybil (Schreiber, 1973); Splitting: A Case of Female Masculinity (Stoller, 1973); I'm Eve (Sizemore and Pitillo, 1977); The Five of Me (Hawksworth and Schwarz, 1977); Tell Me Who I Am Before I Die (Peters and Schwarz, 1978); The Minds of Billy Milligan (Keyes, 1981); The Healing of Lia (Ward and Farelli, 1982); We, The Divided Self (Watkins and Johnson, 1982); Prism: Andrea's World (Bliss and Bliss, 1985); When Rabbit Howls (Chase, 1987); Voices (LaCalle, 1987); Nightmare (Peterson and Gooch/ Freeman, 1987); A Mind of My Own (Sizemore, 1988); My Father's House: A Memoir of Incest and Healing (Fraser, 1988); Through Divided Minds: Probing the Mysteries of Multiple Personalities, a Doctor's Story (Mayer, 1988); Katherine, It's Time (Castle and Bechtel, 1989); Suffer the Child (Spencer, 1989); Satan's Children (Mayer, 1991); The Flock: The Autobiography of a Multiple Personality (Casey and Wilson, 1991); Jennifer and Her Selves (Schoenewolf, 1991).

For especially useful synopses of most of the published accounts of multiple personality listed above, see North, Ryall, Ricci, and Wetzel (1993, 185-229).

2. For an examination of multiple personality as a fictional trope, see Hawthorn (1983).

3. Examples of homodiegetic narratives in which the clinician's experience and vicarious traumatization are foregrounded include: The Three Faces of Eve (Thigpen and Cleckley, 1957); Prism: Andrea's World(Bliss and Bliss, 1985); Voices (LaCalle, 1987); Through Divided Minds (Mayer, 1988); (Mayer, 1991); Jennifer and Her Selves(Schoenewolf, 1991). Texts which employ an external focalizer as the narrating agent include Sybil (Schreiber, 1973) and The Minds of Billy Milligan (Keyes, 1981).

4. I am aware of the irony of using "first-person" to describe narratives about multiple personality; however, this seeming contradiction has a certain accuracy in that most narratives about multiplicity are, essentially, monologic in their use of a unifying consciousness through which to present their multiplicity.

5. Putnam (1989) defines the host as "the personality that presents for treatment and the one who becomes identified as the 'patient' prior to the diagnosis of MPD. The typical host personality is depressed, anxious, anhedonic, rigid, frigid, compulsively good, conscience-stricken, and masochistic and suffers from a variety of somatic symptoms, usually headaches. Host personalities are often overwhelmed by their life circumstances and present themselves as powerless and at the mercy of forces beyond their control or comprehension. . . . The host may not always be a single alter personality. In some cases, the host is a social facade created by a more or less cooperative effort of several alters agreeing to act as one. These facade hosts may disintegrate early in the course of treatment, leaving the neophyte therapist wondering what has become of the 'patient' who first entered therapy" (107). Despite what sounds like the regularity of encountering such hosts during the course of therapeutic treatment of multiple personality, When Rabbit Howls is the only published narrative that represents the host as a construct of the system with no viable self.

6. Ean's role in the system remains allusive and unclear throughout the text. Called the "Irishman" by some of the alters and by the nonfocalized narrative voice, Ean speaks with a brogue and embodies an "Irish fighting spirit" (165) that the Troops recall earlier in the text as two of the characteristics of their beloved maternal grandfather. Whatever his origin intrapsychically, Ean is a figure of enormous power within the system, and his full appearance coincides with the woman's realization that she is a mask for the other Troop members. Ean also has the responsibility, the text notes (xxvi), for articulating those passages written from within the tunnel. Of Putnam's (1989) categories of alters (103-30), the one closest to describing Ean's role in the text is that of the Internal Self-Helper (ISH), a protector personality who provides "information and insights into the inner workings of the system" (110). For strategies about working with Internal Self-Helpers, see Putnam, 202-04.


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Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image Music Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang.

Bliss, Jonathan, and Eugene L. Bliss. 1985. Prism: Andrea's World. New York: Stein and Day.

Casey, Joan Frances, and Lynn Wilson. 1991. The Flock: The Autobiography of a Multiple Personality. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

Castle, Kit. 1989. Katherine, It's Time. New York: Harper and Row.

Chase, Truddi. 1990. When Rabbit Howls. New York: Jove Books.

Culler, Jonathan. 1975. Structuralist Poetics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Dell, Paul F. 1988. "'Professional Skepticism about Multiple Personality". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 176:528-31.

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Hawksworth, Henry, and Ted Schwarz. 1977. The Five of Me. Chicago: Henry Regnery.

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Mayer, Robert S. 1988. Through Divided Minds. New York: Doubleday.

-----. 1991. Satan's Children. New York: Putnam's.

Mersky, Harold. 1992. "The Manufacture of Personalities: The Production of Multiple Personality Disorder". British Journal of Psychiatry 160:327-40.

North, Carol S., Jo-Ellyn Ryall, Daniel A. Ricci, and Richard D. Wetzel, eds. 1993. Multiple Personalities, Multiple Disorders: Psychiatric Classification and Media Influence. New York: Oxford University Press.

Peters, Christina, and Ted Schwarz. 1978. Tell Me Who I Am before I Die. New York: Rawson.

Peterson, Emily, and Nancy Lynn Gooch. 1987. Nightmare: Uncovering the Strange 56 Personalities of Nancy Lynn Gooch. New York: Richardson & Steirman.

Putnam, Frank W. 1989. Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Rivera, Margo. 1989. "Linking the Psychological and the Social: Feminism, Poststructuralism, and Multiple Personality". Dissociation 2:24-31.

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Sizemore, Chris Costner. 1989. A Mind of My Own. New York: Morrow.

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Spence, Donald P. 1982. Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton.

Spencer, Judith. 1989. Suffer the Child. New York: Pocket Books. Toller, Robert J. 1973. Splitting: A Case of Female Masculinity. New York: Quadrangle.

Thigpen, Corbett H., and Hervey M. Cleckley, 1957. The Three Faces of Eve. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ward, Winfred O., and Lia Farelli. 1982. The Healing of Lia. New York: Macmillan.

Watkins, John G., and Rhonda J. Johnson. 1982. We, the Divided Self. New York: Macmillan.

Young, James E. 1988. Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

More on Truddi Chase

When Rabbit Howls: New York Times Chris Lehmann-Haupt's review, disbelieving and unflattering to the subject.
Inside the Mind of a Multiple Psychology Today review, she finds the idea of living multiple "disturbing".
When Rabbit Howls: Astraea review Jay Young and Andy Temple take a good look at what the Troops are really saying.
Muster the Troops Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1987
Truddi Chase Introducing People to Her 92 Personalities Washington Post, July 1987
Truddi Chase, Woman of Many Voices St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 1990

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