A Memoir That Relieves the Lifelong Burden of Shame

by Jerry Waxler

In her memoir Ragdoll Redeemed,  Dawn Novotny reveals the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Sexual abuse hurts for a lifetime, leaving behind a coating of shame. As long as it’s hidden, the memory maintains itself in its original form. One of the remarkable benefits of the memoir revolution is that it gives us the opportunity to relieve ourselves of hidden burdens. Now that she has transferred the incident from memory to book, the truth becomes blazingly clear. The perpetrator is the shameful one. And as the story proceeds, these disturbing events take their place among the rich pantheon of her lifelong experiences.

Novotney’s memoir, Ragdoll Redeemed, is not just about her childhood. It’s about growing up and being swept along by decisions made by and for her. It turns out that in addition to shame, her childhood experiences add another sort of burden. They teach her who we she is supposed to be. So as she grows up, Novotny expects to be used, which sets the stage for the middle period of her life.

The key event that started Dawn Novotny across the threshold from child to adult, was an attraction to a man who happened to be son of the famous baseball player Joe Dimaggio. She reminded Joe Dimaggio junior of his famous step-mother, Marilyn Monroe. Judging from the pictures on the cover, she looks like Marilyn, and based on the parallels of their abusive childhoods, she also had similar self-esteem and family problems.

Such an attraction is a fascinating example of “reenactment” meaning Dimaggio, Jr. was selecting a partner who would let him continue the journey of his childhood. Earlier in my life, I assumed that people are driven by rational forces, and that notions like reenactment would only make sense to overly educated psychologists . But after I became a therapist, I quickly  realized that reenactment is quite normal. We are often pulled into life situations in which we attempt to replay circumstances of our childhood. The phenomenon often drives us to select partners uncannily reminiscent of our family history.

Once it became obvious to me that it happened regularly, I noticed that it turns up in memoirs, too. And Dawn Novotny’s Ragdoll Redeemed is a perfect example of crucial life decisions that were based on the reenactment of primitive childhood experience. Joe Dimaggio, Jr. wanted to reenact his childhood fantasies of being close to Marilyn Monroe. And because Novotny had been repeatedly abused by men who looked at her as a sexual object, she was willing to go along with Dimaggio’s fantasy and become an object that would fulfill his needs. How strange and fascinating!

Fortunately, Novotny’s story does not stop there. She keeps going, searching for the next step and the next, which eventually leads her past mistakes, to a search for wisdom. By showing us the long journey of being an adult, in the end, the book is about developing a deep appreciation for the narrative of a lifetime, a troubling, fascinating journey that was finally “redeemed” as she puts it, or in my words, finally makes sense.

This is the first part of my essay about Dawn Novotny’s memoir, Ragdoll Revealed. In the next parts, I will talk about her fame, lifelong search for wisdom, the structure of the memoir, and some comments on the memoirs stylistic choices.


Dawn Novotny, RagDoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe

Dawn Novotny’s blog and home page

Related article: Sue William Silverman, Fearlessly Confessing the Dark Side of Memory in this Memoir of Sexual Abuse

Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing Up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe
Dawn Novotny’s Ragdoll Redeemed inspired a series of essays about the memoir writer’s search for truth. The series covers issues about shame, fame, wisdom, life review, and the craft of memoir writing.

A Memoir That Relieves the Lifelong Burden of Shame
If This Memoir Author is Famous, Maybe You Are Too
In Memoirs, Changing Thoughts Reveal the Wisdom of a Lifetime
Will the Examined Life Become a Memoir Subgenre?
How Excellent Must Your Memoir Be?

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

7 thoughts on “A Memoir That Relieves the Lifelong Burden of Shame

  1. Jerry, Thanks for your professional insights and review of what looks like an interesting read. Can’t wait to read your next segment.

  2. Hi Jerry,

    Thank you for featuring my Book, Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe. I so appreciate your accurate take/explanation on my experiences. I feel as if I will learn more about myself as I follow your commentary.

    Warm Regards, dawn

  3. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the compliment, Dawn. I hope you enjoy the rest of the essay. It’s so awesome that your memoir plus the internet enable us to have these dialogs about the meaning of life. Speaking of which, I notice I need to include your blog address in my posts: Dawn Novotny’s Blog

    Best wishes,

  4. Pingback: If this memoir author is famous, maybe you are too | Memory Writers Network

  5. Pingback: In Memoirs, Changing Thoughts Reveal the Wisdom of a Lifetime | Memory Writers Network

  6. Pingback: Will the Examined Life Become a Memoir Sub-genre? | Memory Writers Network

  7. Pingback: How Excellent Must Your Memoir Be? | Memory Writers Network

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