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Character response to conflict between the individual and society in a selection of novels by Theodor Fontane Emmal, Marline


The aim of this dissertation is to examine how Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) portrays character response to conflict between the individual and society in a selection of five novels set in Berlin during the 1870's and 1880's - namely, L'Adultera (1882); Cecile (1887); Irrungen, Wirrungen (1888); Stine (1890); and Effi Briest (1895). It is hypothesized that character response to the fundamental conflict is depicted as a function of personality. Moreover, three distinct personality types may be observed, each of which is associated with a different manner of response to specific instances of conflict between personal inclination and social expectation. The Conformist type is authoritarian in outlook, conservative, traditional, principled, intolerant of unconventional behaviour, fearful of ridicule, proud, competitive, disciplined, inhibited in emotional and instinctual expression. In specific instances of the basic conflict, the Conformist adheres to social norms in the belief that they represent the "right" values. The Compromiser type is distinguished by melancholy, cynicism, fatalism, passivity, idealism, self-effacing tendencies, emotionalism, imagination, restlessness, expediency and fondness for unconventional activities. In situations of conflict, the Compromiser - whose values are at odds with social prescripts - responds either with resentful defiance of social norms, or with resigned submissiveness to them. The Courageous type is characterized by honesty, integrity, tolerance, co-operativeness, self-reliance, confidence, creativity and optimism. In instances of the basic conflict, this type displays the courage to express personal values and to pursue individual goals in a responsible manner despite opposition from society. While Fontane did not consciously create his characters according to this typology, there is considerable textual evidence that it does exist. Awareness of it contributes to our understanding of how the author depicts his characters' response to conflict between self and society.

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