Jamie Fraser, a Character Based on Hope: A look at the concept of trauma in the TV show ‘Outlander’

Bridget Seelinger

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I wanted to alert everyone to some major spoilers in this! I know that the last episode hasn’t aired yet, but I was really inspired by the last episode and wanted to write this!

Outlander, the new hit TV show on Starz is one of the first of its kind to discuss the highly stigmatized concept of trauma. Reviewers from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times have been discussing the talent of the actors and the intensity of the show, but have failed to discuss the overall theme of how a character as strong as Jamie Fraser is broken, plagued by memories of torture and rape, and then how he ultimately recovers. Jamie Fraser is a first. Since he is one of the main characters on the show, the viewers watching are shocked by his apparent “ruining” by this rape that happens to him. I would like to argue that Jamie is not ruined, but empowered and strengthened by the things done to him, and is ultimately a symbol of hope for all who struggle with mental illness.

Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, a World War 2 combat nurse who fall through time to the 1740s in Scotland in the years before the Jacobite Rising. She meets Jamie and for a variety of reasons, the two of them get married. She uses her savy nursing skills to heal many people in Scotland (these skills almost get her burned as a witch! Oops!) and the show leads up to a choice she has to make between staying with Jamie or going back to her husband in the 1940s. She chooses Jamie and the two of them build a relationship that is built on mutual love and respect. This fairytale is not to have a simple and sweet ending, though. Jamie is captured by the notorious Black Jack Randall and when Claire tries to rescue him, has to choose between saving her life or subjecting himself to rape and torture at the hands of Black Jack. He submits to rape and torture before he is eventually rescued and then is taken to France to recover from his wounds, both internal and external. He tries to kill himself, ashamed and embarrassed by the things that he is forced to remember, but Claire refuses to give up on him. She helps him come to terms with what happened to him and although he will forever remember what happened to him, he is able to live a life that is meaningful and no longer be debilitated by memories of his trauma.

Jamie was subject to trauma of the worst kind. The type of trauma that he suffered is unique. Black Jack alternated between using pain and gentleness during the rape. The pain kept Jamie completely aware of what was happening and prevented Jamie from dissociating from the situation. Since gentleness was also used, Jamie also found himself remembering Claire during the rape and thus associated her with it later on. Claire became a trigger for him which was exactly what Black Jack wanted. We see a shot of Jamie at the close of the Wentworth prison episode, trying to dissociate, trying to just allow things to happen, but failing completely. It is heartbreaking to watch.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of the term “victim”. Being a victim means that you do not have any control over what happened to you. It lacks empowerment over the situation. The truth about being a “victim” of trauma is that you did not have control over what happened to you, but I would argue that this does not make you a “victim.” It makes you a survivor. Jamie survived what happened to him. He lived through it, but the difference between his being a victim and a survivor is that as a victim, he would let it control his life, but he does not. He is able to come to terms with the events that transpired and LIVE HIS LIFE. He is able to survive.

How is he able to do this, though? I would argue that it is not only Claire that is key to his recovery, he recovers because he has the 10 Fundamental Elements of Recovery. Jamie has self-direction. He wants to live his life and take control. His recovery is individualized. Claire helps him see his strengths. When she comes into his room, she helps him realize his physical strength, a key thing for a man like Jamie. Jamie is empowered. She literally reenacts the nightmare that was his trauma so she can demonstrate to him in a tangible way that he can beat it. His recovery is holistic as well. When he is on his deathbed, he is given the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which is very important in Jamie’s Scottish culture. This helps him feel empowered. Jamie’s recovery is nonlinear. The end of season 1 of Outlander is only the beginning of the healing process. Jamie is forever plagued with nightmares and flashbacks, but he does not let these things inhibit him from living his life to the fullest potential. Some days are worse than others, but ultimately, Jamie has control over his recovery. His recovery is most definitely strengths based. The people in Jamie’s life never say things to him that bring him down. They build him up to help him maximize his potential. If Jamie wants to talk about the trauma, they are there to listen. His peer support is very strong. Claire is the main source of this, but Jamie also has all of the monks at the monastery, Murtagh, and his family back in Scotland. Jamie has people around him that love him. There is an emphasis on respect as well. The people around Jamie view him as a survivor, not a victim. Claire also holds Jamie accountable for his actions. Although he is in recovery, she does not let him get away with things like self-pity. She is his rock to support him and ultimately, the main source of hope.

Hope is central to any recovery. When Jamie first arrived in France, he was in despair. He was ashamed and fearful. He was afraid people would judge him and he was afraid of turning to his wife for help. Claire helped turn this mindset around. She was positive and focused on recovery. She saw the pain that Jamie was in, but refused to give up. Even in the later books of the Outlander series when Jamie suffers from nightmares related to his trauma, Claire is there as his support.

Since Jamie is a source of strength and empowerment, he is also a great image for the mental health community. Trauma can happen to anyone for any reason. We want to live in a world that is comfortable and free from fears of what could happen to us. The truth of the matter is that things happen. Children are kidnapped on the street, women and men are grabbed in parking lots. Things happen. What is important for us is to not judge people for the things that they have lived through and survived.

Jamie lived through a very serious trauma, and yet he is the source of one of the largest fan bases in the world. Diana Gabaldon’s books have sold internationally and for anyone who is a true fan of the books, we all know that we are reading the books for Jamie. At least I am! Starz’s TV show has some of the highest ratings and is getting really great reception as well. My mindset is that if a character as strong as Jamie is able to live through something as horrible as what happened at Wentworth prison, then there is hope for the rest of us. Jamie is an inspirational character and certainly someone to be looked up to.

So please, I’m begging the internet to stop calling Jamie a “victim” or “ruined”. He is strong. He is a survivor. And ultimately, Jamie’s hope is a source of hope for us all.

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