Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The narrator, a schoolgirl, becomes fascinated with Christa T., who, while walking in the street one day with her classmates, suddenly makes a trumpet from a rolled-up newspaper and blows it. Such exhibitionism, without any apparent concern for approval, characterizes Christa T.’s elusive personality. A daring, independent tomboy, Christa T. seems a Sternkind kein Herrnkind, that is, a “star-child” with a special destiny but without any inherited, unearned social advantages. Her modest origins are underlined by her regional dialect, Plattdeutsch (“flatland German”), which has a simplified vocabulary and syntax (and heavy admixtures of Dutch and English). Speakers of standard High German consider the dialect a barbarous, primitive patois.
Christa T. and the narrator are separated for seven years by the evacuation of civilians fleeing the advancing Russian army in 1945 during the final year of World War II. Christa T. suffers a nervous breakdown. When she recovers, she decides to become a teacher. She writes compulsively throughout her life because she fears vanishing without a trace. Her posthumous papers are full of sketches for stories, and full of unfinished drafts. The young school principal from the next village loves her, but he is ultimately rejected by her. Christa T. loves children, but after three years of unvarying classroom routine, she decides to leave her family rather than succeed her father at his school.
As a university student at Leipzig in 1952, Christa T. reunites with the narrator but turns out to be a neglectful friend. Timid despite her bravado, and unmotivated, Christa T. drifts. She finds no value in her education. Her diaries and letters reveal her confused need for perfection, alternating with mild self-abasement. Günter, another student, loves her, but he is frustrated by her lack of commitment. She mistrusts propaganda that glorifies the new Socialist era, and she loves dead poets now forgotten. Her unrealistic expectations shape her attraction to the fickle, poetical...
(The entire section is 834 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Quest for Christa T. was Wolf’s breakthrough as a major writer. In the novel, a first-person female narrator attempts to reconstruct the life of a friend who has recently died in her thirties of leukemia and of an inability to fit into her society. In the process the narrator reflects on her own time and society. She ponders the process of writing and its ability to save or to falsify people by seeing them through biased memories. The book investigates the struggle to define an individual identity in a developing communist society (East Germany) that sees conformity as necessary to its survival.
In a 1968 essay entitled “Selbstinterview” (self-interview), Wolf indicates that she wrote The Quest for Christa T. from a subjective impulse because someone very close to her had died, and she could not accept this death. Writing about it was a means of protecting herself. Wolf delves into the early life of her friend and uses documentary material, such as diaries, letters, and sketches of Christa T. Moreover, Wolf discovered that in the process of writing about Christa T., she was forced to confront herself and the relationship between the first-person narrator and Christa T.
The constant interplay between reality and fiction, between self and narrator, breaks down the boundaries between the two. Just as the narrator of The Quest for Christa T. is forced to invent certain scenes in order to produce a “true”...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
The Quest for Christa T. is an attempt to capture the quality of a life—the life of an ordinary, unheroic woman. Christa T. is an adolescent as World War II ends; she is educated, teaches, marries, has children, and dies young from leukemia in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. The unnamed narrator’s quest in writing the biography of Christa T. encompasses her own memories of her friend; Christa T.’s diaries, letters, poetry, and occasional writings; the memories of Christa T.’s family; imagined reconstructions of incidents; and interviews with friends. As much as the book purports to be a quest for Christa T., it is also a quest for the way to compose such a memoir and how to find a justification for its existence.
In the “prelude” to the book, the narrator expresses her need to find some way to preserve the life of Christa T., a year after her death. Having read her friend’s papers, she dismisses her own memory as deceptive; she fears the illusory quality of recollection but feels obliged to rescue Christa T. from oblivion. She realizes that “the compulsion to make her stand and be recognized” comes from the need of those who live on, a “we” in which she includes herself and the audience of readers.
The narrator recounts her first memories of Christa T. as a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl in the Hermann Goering School in Freideberg. Christa is the new student whose independent superiority undermines the authoritarian attitude of the teachers, provokes the gossip of her fellow students, and annoys the narrator. One day, after the all-clear signal following an air raid, Christa T. rolls up a newspaper and lets forth with a loud shout which shatters the repressive quiet of the Nazi town. This action jolts the narrator into a new awareness with its exuberance: “[S]uddenly I felt, with a sense of terror, that you’ll come to a bad end if you suppress all shouts prematurely.” The narrator’s initial friendship with Christa is, however, short-lived as the Christmas holidays are eclipsed by the defeat of the Nazis, turning the townspeople into refugees. The narrator gathers impressions of Christa’s flight from a diary which also contains her earlier childhood scribblings and poetry.
The two friends meet again in a university lecture hall in Leipzig seven years later. Christa has spent the intervening years as a manual laborer and, later, as a grammar-school teacher. The narrator finds their reunion miraculous, as if they both had been resurrected from the dead. A spontaneous outbreak of laughter as they part at a bus stop reveals to the narrator that Christa can still elicit the joy of surprise. Yet she has become timid, afraid of disappearing without a trace and afraid of labeling herself and thus putting boundaries around her life.
As a student, Christa is erratic and careless, dependent on her classmates for support, which they willingly provide with a trace of exasperation. Her imagination seems to fuel their quest for a perfect society, which they believe to be imminent. Yet she is the first to question the nature of such change. She asks, “What does the world need to become perfect? First of all, and for quite a long time, it needs perfect love.” Christa has an intense love affair with a fellow student, Kostia, which ends not when a blonde, Inge, is brought into their relationship as a “little sister” but when Kostia’s friend, Gunter, falls apart over the “loss” of Inge. Christa contemplates suicide and writes a letter which the narrator would like to suppress but cannot; in it, Christa divulges that she is unable to find a purpose in her life.
She returns to her home village and spends the summer recuperating. During this period, she consults...
(The entire section is 1549 words.)