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Engagierte literatur: Christoph Heins texte der achtziger und neunziger jahre

Axel Hildebrandt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines novels written by East German author Christoph Hein between 1980 and 2000. Hein pursues ethically-controversial topics as he addresses history and politics. I argue that Hein is not a 'chronicler without message,' as he has claimed, but rather a socially-engaged moralist who communicates his message via his protagonists' dilemmas. I consider relationships between GDR generations, history's role in discourses of East German society, minorities, gender roles, and Hein's critique of a now-unified German society. After an introduction lays out my theoretical framework, I investigate Hein's novella Der fremde Freund in chapter one. Its protagonist is portrayed in a state of abeyance, incapable of living in the present because she is still negotiating her past. In chapter two I argue that in the novel Horns Ende Hein uses multiple perspectives to interrogate the suicide of a historian and thereby succeeds in adding aspects of East German history left out of East German Marxism's official version. The protagonist of the novel Der Tangospieler, the subject of chapter three, realizes after his release from jail that he is not able to reclaim agency over his life. I argue that his psychosomatic symptoms express his inability to understand his life rationally. In chapter four, I maintain that Hein's first post-Wende novel Das Napoleon-Spiel, consisting of long letters written by a lawyer to justify his murder of an unknown man, is intended to draw the West German judicial system into question and comment on East Germans' unwarranted hopes that reunified Germany will constitute a just society. In chapter five I show that Von allem Anfang an questions linear concepts of history and memory as it represents a boy's childhood memories. In the novel Willenbrock, addressed in chapter six, an East German car dealer tries to find his place in unified Germany. Hein probes the interrelationship between newly-won wealth and the threat of losing it as he explores German xenophobia. I conclude that Hein's distinct East German perspective enables him to criticize East Germany as well as reunified Germany. In doing so, he intervenes into the social and political discourses of his time.

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Literature

Recommended Citation

Hildebrandt, Axel, "Engagierte literatur: Christoph Heins texte der achtziger und neunziger jahre" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3216952.