Ghost Kingdoms and Phantom Worlds: Narrative strategies in adoptee autofiction



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In this thesis, I investigate Betty Jean Lifton’s theory of the Ghost Kingdom as it appears in adoptee-written narratives. Lifton describes the Ghost Kingdom as a “psychic reality” where what-if projections of lost or wished for persons (often conceptualized as characters) reside. Her theory describes both the ontological position of the adoptee situated in reality and the possible worlds they create within themselves through mental activity. Adoptees exist in both of these worlds simultaneously. Using primarily narrative theory, I argue that Lifton’s Ghost Kingdoms are a narrative framework adoptees use to compose narratives that blur the distinction between reality and fiction. When the narratives of such Ghost Kingdoms are written, they serve as a representation of a nexus of possible worlds where the imagined and the real can coexist. I demonstrate with this thesis how adoptee Ghost Kingdom narratives fill “the gap” between what could have been and what is with an imaginary world where characters and possible worlds “haunt” adoptees in reality. These fictions are adoptee responses to trauma and ambiguous loss, so they serve as an important building block for identity development in addition to acting as a substitute for a significant gap of knowledge about the self. To fill this gap, they create narratives that are fictional, yet they make up very real aspects of the adoptee’s identity.



Ghost kingdom, Adoptee narratives, Autofiction, Possible worlds, Phantom worlds