The subject of trauma is heavily evident in Sarah Kane’s play, 4.48 Psychosis. Here, the trouble the speaker seems to be having with her identity rests fundamentally upon her clinical depression. 4.48 Psychosis was written by British playwright Sarah Kane two weeks before dying of suicide. 4.48 Psychosis was directed by James MacDonald and was first staged on the twenty-third of June in the year 2000 in London. Another subject of identity confusion to do with 4.48 Psychosis is how the play was received by the public and critics. Most of her this play’s audience saw it as a suicide letter more than a work external to Kane’s biography. Many critics failed to see the distinction between life and art in Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (Tycer 24). Even Kane’s own brother had to release a statement in attempt to enlighten audiences that 4.48 Psychosis was in fact, not a suicide note. Tycer believes that this assumption caused many critics to miswrite about 4.48 Psychosis (Tycer 23). Instead of treating it as a work to be criticised, it arguable may have been over-respected to have been critiqued fairly. Firstly, one can find the main subject of problems with self-identity within the narrative of 4.48 Psychosis. One can also find the problem of identity of 4.48 Psychosis externally; with how the audience would have portrayed the play.
Like in Sarah Kane’s other plays, there is a presence of a triple identity. Tycer identifies this triple identity as the “Victim”, the “Perpetrator”, and the “Bystander” (Tycer 32). In Kane’s plays, there is not a designated identity for each character, but all characters have two of these identities if not all three. An example of this triple identity is evident in one of Kane’s first play called Blasted. One example is the character Ian’s unmistakeable identity as the “Perpetrator” in the beginning of the play. Ian is a racist, and a homophobe who tries and succeeds in taking advantage of Cate; a girl he is sharing a hotel room with who is half of his age (Kane and Urban). Later, Ian experiences the most vulgar form of rape in the play, making him a victim (Kane and Urban). In 4.48 Psychosis however, it is not easy to distinguish one character from another. One can assume that there is one speaker and maybe doctors. Since the speaker acts as her own “Victim”, “Perpetrator”, and “Bystander”, it is difficult to distinguish whether she instigates her own insults, inflicting pain upon herself or whether the doctors do: ” –Oh dear, what’s happened to your arm? / –I cut it. / –That’s a very immature, attention seeking thing to do. Did it give you relief?” (Kane). In an interview, Sarah Kane had stated the potential of all people having identities consisting of good and evil when trauma is added into the equation of one’s life: “I don’t think of the world as being divided up into men and women, victims and perpetrators. I don’t think those are constructive decisions to make, and they make for very poor writing” (“Rage And Reason: Women Playwrights On Playwriting”). While the voices merge together to form one, the reader or audience should not worry themselves with trying to separate them. This is Kane’s motivation in this play; to diffuse the voices into creating one character who ultimately consists of all three identities: the “Victim”, the “Perpetrator”, and the “Bystander”. This over-mingling of identities within the speaker ultimately causes her to feel like “nothing” as there is not one complete character. Because of trauma and grief, the speaker can no longer tell who she is. The speaker now feels unsafe with herself as she recognises that she is her own perpetrator: “Shame shame shame. / Drown in your fucking shame” (Kane). Though she recognises that evil lives within her, she cannot run from her own mind and body: “Do you think it’s possible for a person to be born in the wrong body” (Kane). The speaker could also be considered as a bystander as one may consider her “passive” with what was done to her body. The speaker was arguably treated as a guinea pig as she was put on countless drugs that included painful side effects (Kane). Though these events were not her fault and were more complicated than the speaker laying herself down to be tested, her giving up on healing altogether could be the evidence of the ultimate act of the bystander in the play. The speaker does not have the freedom to make her own decisions because of her “pathological grief” (Kane). The speaker “can’t eat”, “can’t sleep”, and “cannot be alone” (Kane). These things that the speaker mentions that she cannot attain are basic human rights. The speaker’s grief causes her loss of self-identity, thus inducing the defeat of her freedom.
Tycer explains that it is grief and trauma that creates a blur in identity (Tycer 32). This statement is evident in both texts written about in this essay. In the case of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, grief and trauma are ultimately induced by slavery. The pain of slavery does not leave Sethe when she is no longer a slave, thus bringing about the ghost of slavery. The ghost of slavery is the pain and memory that haunts Sethe. This vulgar memory was initially created because of slavery; the memory being her killing of her first daughter. This act is generated from the treatment she got as a slave. Sethe among other slaves such as Paul D were treated as animals. Sethe killing her daughter is arguable a cause of being treated as an animal; she is forced to act like an animal. It is not until Sethe faces her memories and pain, does she acquire freedom and regains her identity. Trauma, pain, and imprisonment are also themes of Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis. Kane’s death quickly after the writing of 4.48 Psychosis led most audiences, readers, and critics to believe that the play was a suicide note. This causes a problem with identity as the play is mingled with her biography by critics and the public. 4.48 Psychosis had to be separated as a piece of art instead of it being viewed as a work written as the telling of Kane’s life. The initial grief had to be taken away from the play for it to have been an independent work of art. Kane works the identity of the “Victim”, “Perpetrator”, and “Bystander” within most, if not all her works. This does not exclude 4.48 Psychosis. Kane assigns multiple identities within each character to create real and relatable characters. The speaker in 4.48 Psychosis is contains all three. Though she may have fundamentally been the “Victim” of the play, she was the victim of herself. The speaker was also the “Perpetrator” and “Bystander” of her own pain and grief. Both characters had been imprisoned externally and internally. The speaker in 4.48 Psychosis was ultimately imprisoned by her own mind and body while being externally imprisoned by doctors who had diagnosed her. Sethe and Paul D were externally imprisoned by their slaveowners but internally imprisoned by haunting memories and trauma. What connects Beloved and 4.48 Psychosis is their enslavement to grief and trauma causing the blurring of self-identity. In conclusion in relation to both texts, self-identity can only be attained through freedom from trauma.