Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Nelly Jordan

Nelly Jordan, a girl growing up under the Nazi regime. An impressionable, idealistic girl, she falls prey to the propaganda surrounding her in school, Hitler Youth, and the media. In spite of intense indoctrination and the silence maintained in her family, Nelly manages to preserve bits of her individual morality through feelings of secrecy, embarrassment, guilt, shame, pity, fear, and a pervasive sense of sadness. Still, she enthusiastically participates in the Hitler Youth and tries to please her Nazi teachers. With the misery of her family becoming refugees, the atrocities that she witnesses and hears about, and the occupation of Germany, her system of beliefs breaks down, and she has to undergo a total transformation to become a new human being.

The narrator

The narrator, who is identical with the adult Nelly but feels that the child Nelly is a stranger. An ethically sensitive, complex, and philosophical writer, the narrator is haunted by the split in her and her generation’s consciousness that has occurred through the suppression of negative memories. The occasion of a brief family trip in 1971 to her prewar hometown, Landsberg, which since the war lies in Poland, precipitates her writing an autobiographical novel. The questioning of the memories that are provoked through associations with certain places during their trip makes her write about Nelly’s development. She also feels compelled to reflect on the act of writing as a way of fixing and potentially distorting memories, however, and—through her observer status—of alienating herself from living in the present. Thus, she experiences not only the splits between past and present and between self and society, but also a split between life and fiction writing. She is in search of an integrated self that can...

(The entire section is 749 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In a brief foreword, Christa Wolf warns the reader that the characters and events in the novel are the inventions of the narrator and that anyone who “detects a similarity between a character in the narrative and either himself or anyone else should consider the strange lack of individuality in the behavior of many contemporaries.” Almost all the characters in the novel sacrificed their individuality during the Nazi era out of fear, duty, opportunism, idealism, or indifference. In contrast, the narrator and Lenka, by questioning authoritarian behavior patterns in themselves and others, are able to break out of such patterns and develop as unique individuals. Readers are thus challenged to examine critically their own lives in order to see to what extent they, too, are susceptible to the “universal loss of memory” and “terrifying lack of individuality” that are characteristic of the modern age.

Halfway through the novel, the narrator has grave second thoughts about her character young Nelly. The girl she describes seems helpless, manipulated, strange; she calls her “nothing but the product of your hypocrisy.” The narrator now blames herself for not directly confronting that of which she is ashamed and defensive. The year is 1942, Nelly is thirteen and has begun eating candy while reading the SS newspaper. She has been swept along by events and fully indoctrinated into the Nazi educational and youth organizations. She is only marginally aware of the war of Nazi racial policies and has long since stopped asking painful questions. Her acquiescence in the daily routine of a small town under Fascism is virtually complete. Unlike the main characters of most other East German novels about the Nazi era, whose heroes are resistance fighters or rapid converts to socialism, Nelly begins to gain a new social identity...

(The entire section is 750 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Ezergalis, Inta. Women Writers: The Divided Self, Analysis of Novels by Christa Wolf, Ingeborg Bachmann, Doris Lessing, and Others, 1982.

Frieden, Sandra. “‘In eigener Sache’: Christa Wolf’s Kindheitsmuster,” in The German Quarterly. LIV (1981), pp. 473-487.

Lamse, Mary Jane. “Kindheitsmuster in Context: The Achievement of Christa Wolf,” in University of Dayton Review. XV (1981), pp. 49-55.

Love, Myra. “Christa Wolf and Feminism: Breaking the Patriarchal Connection,” in New German Critique. XVI (Winter, 1979), pp. 31-53.

Love, Myra. “Das Spiel mit offenen Moglichkeiten”: Subjectivity and the Thematization of Writing in the Works of Christa Wolf, 1984.

Wendt-Hildebrandt, Susan. “Kindheitsmuster: Christa Wolf’s ‘Probestuck,’” in Seminar. I (1981), pp. 164-176.