No Place on Earth Essay - Critical Essays

Christa Wolf


Wolf’s text has been read in various ways: as historical fiction, a biographical study, a critique of patriarchal culture, a portrayal of the artist, a utopian parable, and a veiled autobiographical sketch of Wolf’s apprehension as a writer in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, of her sense of disorientation in a period of transition. No Place on Earth appeared simultaneously in East and West Germany and was received quite differently. While West Germans read it as an expression of discomfort with the role of the writer in her socialist society, East Germans interpreted it as reclaiming the once-rejected Romantic era as a part of the nation’s cultural heritage on the one hand and as an admonition of materialism on the other.

No Place on Earth is often considered the first radical departure from Wolf’s socialist-realist roots, which is characterized by a linear, authorial depiction of objective reality. Beyond the objective reflection of reality, other earmarks of socialist realism are national orientation and a positive hero. Beginning with Nachdenken über Christa T. (1968; The Quest for Christa T., 1970) and Kindheitsmuster (1976; A Model Childhood, 1980), one can observe a noticeable shift in Wolf’s work from an outward (or objective) to an inner (or subjective) authenticity. In keeping with Wolf’s insistence on subjective authenticity, this work focuses less on action, which is virtually nonexistent, but rather on the penetration of the inner worlds of the two writers, Günderrode and Kleist.

The form of the narration transgresses traditional generic boundaries. It displays both elements of historical realistic fiction and biographical and autobiographical elements. During the time span in which Wolf was involved in writing this text, she was simultaneously working on a...

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