The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

by Heinrich Boll

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Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

One prominent theme in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is the ability of sexism, racism, and classism to overpower and ultimately squelch justice. Though Germany prides itself on equal justice under the law, even including similar sentiments in its foundational documents and encoding it in its legal history, this value is largely unenforced in practice. When Katharina Blum is accused of terrorism, she becomes guilty by association. Whenever she attempts to dissent, the press spins her words. Even when she tries to claim basic bodily agency, such as when she tries to escape a mob of media professionals, a journalist pulls her back by her hair. The journalist is later defended as "just doing his job."

A related central theme is the power of the press to either illuminate or distort truth. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is primarily about the latter, showing a scenario in which the press uses Blum's trial to exploit the fears and anxieties of the public and keep them riveted to their hyperbolic story. The press is the novel's antagonist; it utilizes its control over language and narrative to enable human rights violations in what is ostensibly a free and equitable country.

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