For Kinder Education

English Literature Degrees Should Come With Trigger Warnings

My study shouldn’t trigger suicidal thoughts for the sake of artistic analogy.

Beth van der Pol
5 min readFeb 17, 2021


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

My hands are shaking as I type out this article. I’m honestly upset I have to be here, and I’m angry that we are still having conversations about trigger warnings in books in the year 2021.

Let’s get the meat of the story out of the way.

I am a twenty-five-year-old female student who is in the last few months of an English Literature course. I use a website that has a trigger warning section in the reviews to track my books. This trigger warning section though imperfect is generally helpful; fellow readers submit the triggers. This, unfortunately, means that one of us has to be triggered first to warn the others.

I’ve survived 70% of my university course. For the majority of my course, there was no mention of rape or child abuse; in fact, many of the books featured hopeful love and female sexual awakening. These books were filled with consent and beautiful relationships if they featured anything sexual at all. However, of the last seven books I have to read, four of them feature rape as either a plot point or a literary device.

Dear Universe, I am tired.

The first two books took me by surprise. I had checked my trigger warning website and nothing red-flagged, so I felt safe reading those books.

The first book wasn’t a big deal. It was a setback in my mental health and an unpleasant surprise. I have been somewhat desensitised to rape content at this point in my healing. I was able to move on relatively quickly (Between The Acts by Virginia Wolf).

The second book is what really set me off. The whole way through the book, the lead character had the same trauma triggers as me. Reading about someone impulsively wanting to change things about their body or act a certain way, even contemplating suicide triggered my own trauma responses. The rape scene at the end of the book sealed the deal. Despite this, I still valued the perspective that the book gave on trauma. I would’ve loved reading it had it provided trigger warnings so that I could mentally…



Beth van der Pol

Writer and author with an MA in creative writing, sharing knowledge and teaching techniques to level up your writing! Find me at