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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Self-justification through writing Schiwy, Marlene Adeline


The idea that the writer practices his/her profession in part to fulfill a responsibility and to absolve himself of guilt is not unique to contemporary literature. From Rousseau's Confessions, to Pablo Neruda's Confieso que he vivido, literally "I confess that I lived", self-justification has been a central concern of the writer who attempts an autobiographical or quasi-autobiographical literary project. Questions of responsibility, guilt, and justice however, may be a particularly unavoidable part of the post-War heritage of Central European writers; specifically those who lived in Germany during the War, and those who for one reason or another, were taken prisoners by the German forces. After the War ended, the establishment of socialist governments ostensibly overshadowed all other matters in the newly-created German Democratic Republic and in Czechoslovakia; including the task of examining the past. Innumerable moral questions were left untouched and unanswered, particularly those revolving around the Holocaust. For many years the general trend especially among official circles, seems to have been to consider the past overcome, or "bewaltigt", and writers were encouraged to produce positive portrayals of life in the new socialist society, and to adhere to the officially-proscribed tenets of Socialist realism. Recently however, and particularly in the last decade or two, an increasing number of "middle-generation" writers - those who lived through the War as young children but were too young for active participation - have turned to the dramatic and shattering events of their childhoods in an attempt to understand their present lives. What is particularly interesting is the fact that they have often chosen to portray the events of their early years in the form of novels, rather than autobiographies. Christa Wolf and Ivan Klima have both indicated clearly - in an inscription and a letter to his readers, respectively - that it would be a grave error (on the part of the reader) to interpret Kindheits- muster and Der Gnadenrichter only as the story of a single individual in a specific historical and national setting. Wolf and Klima have written the story of their childhoods and ensuing years, and have attempted to analyze its lasting influence on their present lives, creating narrator/protagonists whose personalities and lives bear unmistakeable affinities with their own. Both Wolf and Klima have found it impossible to tell their stories in a single long, uninterrupted narrative, and have chosen, in one form or another, to break their narratives. Christa Wolf incorporates the actual process of writing Kindheitsmuster in hers and Ivan Klima divides his story into various sub-narratives. In both cases, the structure of the novels reflects the difficulties inherent in searching out the past, in challenging memory, and in attempting to tell the truth. This paper attempts a parallel study of the autobiographical novels of two "middle-generation" writers; Christa Wolf's Kindheitsmuster and Ivan Klima's Der Gnadenrichter; with regard to their general design, their formal qualities, and their most significant thematic concerns.

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