Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Hispanic Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Carvalho


This dissertation examines the ways in which torture was imagined and narrated in Guatemalan literature during the Internal Armed Conflict. For nearly four decades, Guatemala suffered one of the longest and most violent wars in Latin America. During that time, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people were tortured at the hands of the Guatemalan military. Torture, as suggested by Ariel Dorman, is most fundamentally “a crime committed against the imagination” (8), disrupting and often dissolving the boundaries between fact and fiction, the real and the unreal. The Introduction and Chapter One of this study explore the destabilization of this boundary by examining the historical and theoretical context for torture in Guatemala. The ubiquity and normality of torture was so terrible that, for many, it became “unspeakable”—an atrocity that defied language. Chapters Two through Four study three different literary modes of countering the state’s rhetoric of torture, probing the possibility of narrating torture despite its seemingly unsayable nature. Examining works by Rigoberta Menchú (chapter two), Marco Antonio Flores and Arturo Arias (chapter three), and Rodrigo Rey Rosa (chapter four), and aided by current theories and studies of torture, this dissertation investigates the ways in which these Guatemalan authors have sought not only to re-present torture, but also to explore and sometimes question the possibility of bearing witness to that torture in literature.