Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

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...

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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.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 411

Böll’s title suggests that Katharina’s “lost honor” is an individual example of how people are destroyed by the violence in contemporary German society, and his subsequent disclaimer about the similarity between the fictional News and the Bild-Zeitung implicitly identifies the press as the source of that violence. The press not only collaborates with the police and with business but also serves to express the neo-Fascist views of a repressive coalition dedicated to maintaining, through repressing dissidents, the status quo. That control may be exerted through the misuse and abuse of language will come as no surprise to those familiar with George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” an essay that demonstrates how government may use language to mask reality and discourage critical thought.

By calling attention to Katharina’s “lost honor,” Böll also relates sex to violence and language, and he develops this idea early in the novel. When he first questions Katharina in her apartment, Beizmenne uses language to attack her: “Well, did he f-—-you?” Such language is not intended to elicit information, but to offend, to hurt, to dehumanize. Totges unwittingly duplicates Beizmenne’s linguistic aggression when he asks her, “How about us having a bang for a start?” Katharina is aware of the irony when she pulls out the pistol and thinks, “Bang, if that’s what you want.” Since feminists have shown how pornography and obscenity are related to violence against women, Katharina’s response is practically self-defense, an act of integrity and independence.

Because Totges is so cavalier with language (at one point he explains his lies as an attempt to “help simple people express themselves more clearly”), the narrator attempts to demonstrate proper journalistic prose. By beginning with a “factual” account of the murder, the narrator, unlike Totges, spares his readers the lurid details; as the narrator continues his account, he identifies his sources, checks secondhand information, corrects himself, and uses the word “allegedly” when he is not certain of his facts. Knowing the story is complex, he advises his readers that the story should “flow” but that certain “blockages,” like tensions or pressures, may interfere. Those “blockages” do occur as the narrator is drawn, almost against his will, into Katharina’s plight, and he does modify his “objective” tone as he becomes scathingly ironic and bitterly attacks such governmental methods as wiretapping. In effect, the narrator is compelled to abandon reportage for propaganda and to become the novelist.

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