The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
Knowing about the writer of a literary text can shape significantly the way that it is read. Consider the effect of the writer's context on your understanding of The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.
"As a writer of fiction Böll was interpreting history, creating patterns of meaning, ordering his material to enable his reader to make sense of it." The experiences of Böll and his values that arose from these events have been influential on the content and themes of Böll's novel, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. Böll experienced both the first and second world wars and the effects that these wars had on German society. Events such as the economic collapse in Germany post WWII, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the rise of student based urban terrorism in West Germany in the 1970's and the increasing state controls to contain such alleged threats can be seen to influence the issues explored in The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. The novel is a comment on the press and the law, the labyrinth of social truth, the collision of fact and fiction and the power of language. Böll himself experienced the press first hand and this along with the experiences of Professor Bruckner, form the basis of his criticism directed at the powerful and hegemonic structures in society, in particular in relation to the police and the press and their corrupt relationship in the novella. Many of Heinrich Böll s views and attitudes, resulting form his context, are clearly visible in the novella through the portrayal of certain characters in positive or negative lights. The historical, social, economic and political context of Böll and West Germany at this time (1900's) had a considerable effect on the issues Böll delves into in The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and greatly affected my understanding of the novel.
Germany has a deeply rooted history with fascism in the form of Nazism in WWII (1939-1945). Böll was a teenager at the time of Hitler's rise to power and he despised Hitler and everything that he stood for. "I hate the war and all those who love it". Böll actively refused to join Hitler's Youth as a boy, yet as a young man he was forced to join Hitler's army. After the war, until the German Republic was formed, Böll lived under the Allied Occupation. These events led Böll to view politics with doubt and skepticism and he became vehement about creating an informed public who were capable of involvement in the political life of their nation. In Böll's eyes, "After the experience of the trade crisis, of being at the mercy of economic forces, now came the experience of being at the mercy of political forces, which was almost worse, since you could get used to the former and somehow do something for yourself, but there was nothing you could do about the other." Böll found it especially distressing that the people who could have best afforded to resist the rise of fascism, for example the university professors, did so little. In The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, Böll s attitude of contempt for the Nazi's can be viewed in the lack of interrogation of Konrad Beiters, "Konrad Beiters voluntarily admitted to having once been a Nazi and that alone explained why so far no one had paid any attention to him". Konrad is the only character close to Katharina who is not questioned by the police and this shows the right winged political stance that West Germany still had in 1974 and the misuse of authority by powerful people in social institutions such as the media and the police, especially men.
In 1949, Germany was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Böll was living in West Germany at the time and this is where The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum is set. West Germany was allegedly the democratic, capitalist sector whereas East Germany was governed with communist ideologies. Great paranoia was present in West Germany about East Germany...
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