UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Die unzulängliche Sprache : Studie zur Sprache und Gesellschaft im dramatischen Werk Ernst Barlachs Heukäufer, Margarethe


The letters and diary of Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) show that he was much concerned with the problem of language and the nature of its strengths and weaknesses. This thesis demonstrates the manifestation in Barlach's plays of his ambivalent attitude towards language by investigating the way in which the specific language used by the individual characters simultaneously portrays the values and structure of their society while revealing the inadequacy of language as a vehicle of communication. This portrayal reflects also Barlach's attitude to his own society, which he criticized as being too "verblirgerlicht" (petty-bourgeois, lacking in vision, habit-ridden) at the time . The second chapter sets Barlach's ideas of language in context by comparing them with those of some of his contemporaries, such as Fritz Mauthner, Hugo Ball, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is obvious from this comparison that there are two distinct critical points of view regarding language, affecting both the individual who uses the language for communication and also the society to which he belongs. According to one view, language is an historical phenomenon, subject to change with time, and tending towards a stage where words are meaningless, without impact, and no longer capable of conveying an authentic picture even of everyday objects. According to the second view, language is capable of giving an adequate picture of the phenomenal world, but fails to express what is intangible. Both critical standpoints are to be found in Barlach's dramatic works. The third chapter investigates how these views of language find their expression in Barlach's plays. By the use of textual examples the most striking linguistic devices -- quotations, neologisms, stock phrases, proverbs, repetition are analysed and their importance for the individual character as well as for society as it is portrayed in the plays is explored. It emerges that while most characters use language as in a game, applying linguistic rules which reflect social rules, a few characters use a more individualized language, indicating attitudes which differ from those of society and are frequently unacceptable to it. Although these latter characters may use similar vocabulary and conventional syntax, their partners in conversation, trapped by these habitual speech patterns, seldom understand what they want to convey- Applying the findings of the previous chapters, the fourth chapter analyses in detail three of Barlach's plays which are commonly grouped together under the heading of "burgerliche Dramen": Der arme Vetter (1918), Die echten Sedemunds (1920), and Der blaue Boll (1926). In these plays Barlach criticizes conventional language as used in the small-town German society of his day. At the same time, however, by illustrating the fruitless endeavours of his more problematic characters to express their emotions, he strongly suggests not only that it is impossible for one human being to understand fully the innermost thoughts of another, but that it is also impossible for any human being to formulate and express his own insights fully by the use of language. Based on their use of language the characters in the three plays can thus be divided into those who speak in cliches, platitudes, and quotations, on the one hand, automatically conforming linguistically as otherwise to the rules of a society whose values, customs, and culture are never questioned; and, on the other hand, less conformist characters who variously perceive the meaninglessness of conventional language as reflecting the shallowness of society, and who are aware of areas of human experience which elude the grasp of language. The analysis of the three plays demonstrates that Barlach's critique of language develops towards the presentation of an increasingly complex picture of society as well as of individual characters. The stratification of society as reflected in language becomes a major theme in Der blaue Boll, indicating a deepening of Barlach's vision, and the characters who fail to conform to this more complexly seen system do so in progressively more differentiated fashion. The thesis traces and illuminates this development from the weak character of Iver in the early play Der arme Vetter to the powerful figure of Boll in his later play Der blaue Boll; the former is broken by his incapacity to formulate his spiritual experiences in an alien surrounding, the latter, though conscious of the inadequacy of language to express reality, decides to live an integrated life within the boundaries of his social -- and linguistic -- context.

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