(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Patterns of Childhood is a fictional autobiography. When the narrator of Patterns of Childhood relates her childhood in the third person rather than the traditional first-person voice of an autobiography, she reproduces Wolf’s own gesture of displacing her childhood memories into fiction. The novel therefore reflects not only Wolf’s life but also the process of her writing.

The narrator has difficulty confronting her childhood participation in the Nazi era. She was not directly involved in military combat or in operating the death camps; however, she led a typically ill-informed, middle-class life in which she believed in her country and tried to fit into Nazi society. She understands the speed with which East Germany forgot World War II after it was over since, according to East German propaganda, the war was the fault of the capitalist, imperialist West. The narrator knows that the mentality that produced the Holocaust is not limited to West Germany or to the period of World War II. Her reflections recall the past of an entire generation of Germans, East and West, who grew up during the war years. Not old enough to be directly responsible for the war, those born in the mid-to-late 1920’s nevertheless shoulder the burden of memory and self-examination after Adolf Hitler’s fall.

One of the first writers from the GDR to confront personal involvement in World War II, Wolf breaks the taboo against acknowledging the...

(The entire section is 507 words.)