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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The woman in the works of Ingeborg Bachmann Redwitz, Eckenbert von


The female characters play a dominant part in Ingeborg Bachmann's prose writings. This study attempts first to determine the existence of a coherent image of the female in Bachmann's narrative prose and then to analyze it. In contrast with much of contemporary literature, Bachmann's females show so many "traditional' contours of behaviour and mentality that the question of a conventional sex-specific image arises with the attendant question as to its purpose. An analysis of these characteristics reveals that Bachmann's image of the woman deserves the appellation "sex-specific" but that these "traditional" characteristics are infused with new values: the values of individualism, of a specifically female identity and of a new and particularly intense personal freedom. Thus emotionalism, irrationality and vanity are components of a new form of personal development and expression that is less restricting and more self—oriented than the " traditional" image which many critics have assumed they represent. This interpretation provides the key to the solution of a second critical problem in Bachmann's fiction: the female-male antithesis. This antithesis often assumes violent dimensions such as in the theme of the "sick male" or the "victimized" female. Bachmann depicts the "female" characteristics in marked contrast to those of the male and lends them moral significance in an antithetical world of male versus female, whereby the female and her values are assigned a morally higher position. Here the emotionalism, irrationality and non-utilitarian thinking of the female stand in contrast and are deemed superior to the calculated behaviour, rational thought and efficiency of the male. The image of the male is extended to represent the technological, rational and inhumane aspect of modern society. Thus, Bachmann's image at times transcends the male-female issues and points to problems of a universal nature: the reaction of the individual against ever increasing strictures laid down by administrative, economic and social structures of modern industrialized societies. Finally, the theme of personal freedom underlies all the personal conflicts, motivations and aspirations of Bachmann's heroines. It finds expression in the most extreme form of longing for a state of being entirely lacking in any form of limitation whatsoever: the Grenzubertritt. The failure of Bachmann's females in marriage and family life, their unsatisfactory relationships with the opposite sex, are all seen to have their roots in the incompatibility of social commitment with this urge for personal freedom. Bachmann does not solve the dilemma but tried instead to give poetic form to these goals and values and to sustain the hope for the ultimate attainment of the Grenzubertritt.

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