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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 177

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is the story of a young woman whose life is ruined by the media. She lives an honest life and works hard, and then she meets a man at a party one night who she falls in love with. The man, Ludwig Gotten, is a wanted criminal, and eventually, Katharina hides him from the police and helps him escape from her apartment through a secret passageway. When the press gets hold of the story, an overzealous journalist misrepresents the facts and claims that Katharina is Ludwig’s accomplice.

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The press distorts the words of the people he interviews and prints libelous things about Katharina. Soon, the false accusations escalate into a scandal, and the scandal quickly spins out of control. Katharina, now the victim of a vicious smear campaign by the tabloid journalist, is accused of being a communist. Eventually, she is driven to the brink of insanity and commits murder. The story stresses the power of the media to sway public belief and the devastating effects of sensationalizing the news.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1007

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum examines, as Heinrich Böll’s subtitle suggests, “how violence develops and where it can lead.” The novel, narrated in what purports to be responsible journalistic prose, begins by “objectively” describing Katharina Blum’s murder of Werner Totges, a reporter for the irresponsible News, and then attempting to account for that murder by exploring the four days between Katharina’s meeting with Ludwig Gotten, a suspected terrorist, and Totges’ murder. As a responsible journalist, the narrator carefully identifies the sources of his “report”: “doctored” transcripts of police interrogations and the testimony of Hubert Blorna, an attorney, and Peter Hach, the public prosecutor. In the course of his narrative, he also quotes extensively from stories in the News, which bears a strong resemblance to the Bild-Zeitung, a German mass-circulation tabloid with which Böll had feuded about journalistic practices.

After listing his sources and explaining his narrative method, the narrator presents the brutal “facts”: Four days after meeting Ludwig Gotten, Katharina killed Totges in her apartment and turned herself in to Walter Moeding, the crime commissioner. The balance of the novel concerns not the murder, the “lowest of all levels,” but the “higher planes” of motivation and meaning that transform a so-called political murder into an act of integrity.

The story begins with Katharina’s attendance at a carnival party at the home of her friend Else Woltersheim; there she meets Ludwig, the subject of police surveillance and, after dancing exclusively with him, takes him to her condominium, where they spend the night.

The next morning, the police storm her apartment and when they cannot find Ludwig, they interrogate her, search the apartment, and take her to the police station for further questioning. As she leaves with the police, a photographer from the News takes several pictures of her (the least flattering and most suggestive of her “criminality” is the one subsequently printed in the News), and the narrator uses the occasion to introduce the recurrent theme of collaboration between the press and the police.

After making her statement and being interrogated by the police, Katharina is escorted to her apartment by a sympathetic Moeding, who cautions her not to use the telephone (it has obviously been “bugged”) or to look at the news (or the News). His warning proves justified; her later conversation with Ludwig is tapped, and the News indicts and convicts her of being Ludwig’s mistress and accomplice, though Ludwig has not yet been convicted of a crime. By distorting Hubert Blorna’s...

(The entire section contains 1184 words.)

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