Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192
Told through the voice of her close friend, this is the story of Christa T. It’s a mix of her friend’s memories and primary resources. To fill in the gaps the narrator uses diary entries, letters, and even Christa T.’s college thesis. It would appear that Christa lived an average and unsuspecting life. She survived the war and then went on to pursue love and education. She graduated and had multiple boyfriends. Eventually, she settled down and had children. However, her close friendship with the narrator brings us a closer look at her life. Christa was working hard to make a name for herself. She says that she wants to see “life in all its colors.” The narrator aims to respect Christa’s wishes by keeping the memory of her alive. However, in an examination of the complexity of human nature, even the narrator questions if she really knew Christa. The story is likely an allegory of totalitarianism and oppressive regimes. Christa was in a lifelong search for individuality and freedom. At every turn she was disappointed by what she found. She ultimately passed without having achieved her goals.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 834
The narrator, a schoolgirl, becomes fascinated with Christa T., who, while walking in the street one day with her classmates, suddenly makes a trumpet from a rolled-up newspaper and blows it. Such exhibitionism, without any apparent concern for approval, characterizes Christa T.’s elusive personality. A daring, independent tomboy, Christa T. seems a Sternkind kein Herrnkind, that is, a “star-child” with a special destiny but without any inherited, unearned social advantages. Her modest origins are underlined by her regional dialect, Plattdeutsch (“flatland German”), which has a simplified vocabulary and syntax (and heavy admixtures of Dutch and English). Speakers of standard High German consider the dialect a barbarous, primitive patois.
Christa T. and the narrator are separated for seven years by the evacuation of civilians fleeing the advancing Russian army in 1945 during the final year of World War II. Christa T. suffers a nervous breakdown. When she recovers, she decides to become a teacher. She writes compulsively throughout her life because she fears vanishing without a trace. Her posthumous papers are full of sketches for stories, and full of unfinished drafts. The young school principal from the next village loves her, but he is ultimately rejected by her. Christa T. loves children, but after three years of unvarying classroom routine, she decides to leave her family rather than succeed her father at his school.
As a university student at Leipzig in 1952, Christa T. reunites with the narrator but turns out to be a neglectful friend. Timid despite her bravado, and unmotivated, Christa T. drifts. She finds no value in her education. Her diaries and letters reveal her confused need for perfection, alternating with mild self-abasement. Günter, another student, loves her, but he is frustrated by her lack of commitment. She mistrusts propaganda that glorifies the new Socialist era, and she loves dead poets now forgotten. Her unrealistic expectations shape her attraction to the fickle, poetical Kostia, a fellow student. She completes a successful dissertation on Theodor Storm, a kindred spirit and “predominantly lyrical” author with a “nervous sensibility.” His “conflict between willing something and the inability to do it thrust him into a corner of life.”
Christa T. returns to teaching secondary school in Berlin but becomes discouraged with her students’ facile, cynical conformity to official Socialist doctrine. Her weary, cynical principal urges her to compromise to survive. Then a thuggish student, on a bet, bites off the head of a toad, an incident that further depresses Christa T.
In 1955, in her last six months in Berlin, Christa T. stops writing. Knowing that a Mecklenburg veterinarian, Justus, has fallen in love with her on sight during one of her visits to her family, she decides to call him. She drifts into an affair with him, becomes pregnant, and marries him in 1956. Her return to the country, where she seems to have abandoned her former ambitions, seems a loss to the narrator and friends who had expected great things of her. In the same year, the Soviet invasion of Hungary destroys any hope of a fellowship of communist nations under the benevolent leadership of the Soviet Union. Both the narrator and Christa T. feel bitterness at this “end of Utopia.”
Despite parties and frequent visits from friends, Christa T. feels bored. She seduces a young forester to try to “feel alive.” Her husband, Justus, learns about the affair and suffers, but stays with her nonetheless. Christa T. seeks some purpose in life by planning to build a new house overlooking a lake, in the middle of the dairy farms where Justus works. His work is successful, and he even helps to increase local milk production. Christa T.’s questions help him learn about the area. Despite developing cancer, she persists in her house project.
The narrator contrasts herself and Christa T.—members of the generation that lived through the war and the Soviet occupation—with the complacent, cynical younger generation. “Christa T.,” the narrator says, “had the luck to be forced to create her identity at an age when one is passionate. With that as the standard, all other attractions are shallow.”
Blasing, Christa T.’s and the narrator’s skeptical writer friend, heightens their idealism by way of contrast: Christa T., he says, successfully uses her house designs as “a sort of instrument . . . to link herself more intimately with life.” The narrator echos her friend’s life-affirming motto, “When, if not now?”
Christa T. has developed an exceptional gift for nurturing all her friends without discrimination. During the narrator’s last visit by the lake, Christa T. passes a red poppy to her through the window of the car. “It won’t last, but you won’t mind, will you?” This gesture makes a final, symbolic gift of self. Christa T. soon dies of her illness. The narrator reciprocates the gesture by speaking of Christa T. as she really was. She does so to ensure that her friend will be remembered not as always good or wise but as an irreplaceable source of value.
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