Due Date: 8th April 2005
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.
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum is the product of a political and social genius: it is a comment on Germany and society in general and is, as its author, Heinrich Boll would have it described, "a pamphlet disguised as a novel" . It was written, not just to entertain, but above all, to criticise the society in which it was produced. It is therefore impossible to fully understand the major ideas and themes of the text, and even, to and extent, the storyline itself without some knowledge of the milieu in which it was composed. Being aware of the context in which The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum was produced intensifies the impact of the major issues which it explores (notably the detrimental effects of power abuse, language abuse, and discrimination on the basis of wealth and social standing) by forcing us to rethink the childish yet widely held belief that a novel is merely a story and inviting us to read the this text not as a fairy tale, but as a excruciatingly honest commentary on humanity and modern social values.
Heinrich Boll was born towards the end of the First World War, and lived his childhood in its shadow. During this time he wrote many short stories with the background of economics and social consequences of the war. These reflected his experiences as a witness to Germany's defeat in World War One national humiliation, international debt due to the Treaty of Versailles, which also encompassed loss of land and foreign occupation, the political instability of the Weimar Republic, and the almost inevitable collapse of the German economy resulting in hyperinflation, unemployment and later, Great Depression of the 1930s. The shocking social, economic and political conditions in Germany eventually led to the rise of Hitler, Nazi Germany and later, to the Second World War. As a youth, Boll was conscripted into the army of the Third Reich, something to which he was strongly opposed. In 1944, he wrote in a letter, "I hate the war and all those who love it" .
His writing at the time consistently revolves around the futility of war. Boll's hatred of war and Nazism indicates, possibly, his opposition to dictatorial or nationalistic systems in which power is held by the elitist few and exercised abusively over the defenceless majority. It is also important to note that Boll was very aware of, and even more disgusted by, the role of language in the success of the Nazis. He understood the power of propaganda and without a doubt developed a strong dislike for any organisation who abused language by using it to manipulate and deceive the public at this point in time.
Up until this time, Boll's context had shaped him as a writer, impacted upon his values and attitudes and strongly influenced his writing both in terms of content and style, but it is not until the mid 1940s that we begin to see direct links from Bolls experiences and the society in which he lived to The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. At the conclusion of the Second World War, in which Germany was once again defeated, the country fell back into economic, political and social disarray. However, this time it was not only in ruins, but was also divided up amongst the Allies into two regions. East Germany controlled by the Soviet Republic was rebuilt as a Communist regime which was modelled on the newly founded Bolshevik state of the USSR. West Germany (Boll's homeland) controlled by the USA was reconstructed as a capitalist state which used a similar system to the one employed by the United States.
It is the nature of this capitalist state which provides the basis for the corrupt, selfish regime which we see constructed and criticised in The Lost Honour of...
Bibliography: Boll, Heinrich, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (2000), Vintage, London
Used for quotes and textual support
Butler, Michael, (N.D.) The Conscience of a Nation: Heinrich Boll, [online], retrieved April 1, 2005, from www.writing.upenn.edu
Helpful information on Bolls life and career as a writer
Useful background information on West Germany and Bolls experiences with the police and press
Corin, Chris, Fiehn, Terry, Communist Russia under Lenin and Stalin (2002), John Murray Publishers Ltd, London
Background reading – helpful information on communism and western attitudes towards its rise in Russia
Interwar Years – Economic Recovery, Spark Notes Online Study Guide [online], (2001), Retrieved April 3, 2005, from www.sparknotes.com
Good brief overview of the years between the two World Wars – background information, useful for ' filling in the gaps '
‘Germany ' (2003), Encyclopedia Britannica Online Reference Centre [online], Retrieved March 30, 2005 through MLC school intranet.
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