(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 834 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Quest for Christa T. was Wolf’s breakthrough as a major writer. In the novel, a first-person female narrator attempts to reconstruct the life of a friend who has recently died in her thirties of leukemia and of an inability to fit into her society. In the process the narrator reflects on her own time and society. She ponders the process of writing and its ability to save or to falsify people by seeing them through biased memories. The book investigates the struggle to define an individual identity in a developing communist society (East Germany) that sees conformity as necessary to its survival.

In a 1968 essay entitled “Selbstinterview” (self-interview), Wolf indicates that she wrote The Quest for Christa T. from a subjective impulse because someone very close to her had died, and she could not accept this death. Writing about it was a means of protecting herself. Wolf delves into the early life of her friend and uses documentary material, such as diaries, letters, and sketches of Christa T. Moreover, Wolf discovered that in the process of writing about Christa T., she was forced to confront herself and the relationship between the first-person narrator and Christa T.

The constant interplay between reality and fiction, between self and narrator, breaks down the boundaries between the two. Just as the narrator of The Quest for Christa T. is forced to invent certain scenes in order to produce a “true”...

(The entire section is 440 words.)