Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The novel, which chronicles the years 1933 to 1962, starts with the narrator’s attempt to rescue her dead friend Christa T. from oblivion. While randomly sifting through a box of writings left behind by Christa T., the narrator remembers her friend’s life and passion. Already at school, where Christa T. and the narrator meet in 1944, it is apparent that Christa T. is different from the other pupils, and even though the narrator is unwilling to admit it, it is this difference—or Christa T.’s indifference to her surroundings—that fascinates the narrator. Soon, however, the two girls lose sight of each other in the turbulence of the war. It is not until 1951 that they, now both students in Leipzig, meet again by accident. In the course of their reunion, the narrator hears about Christa T.’s last seven years: cutting out uniforms on a Mecklenburg farm, working in the fields, and finally, after a nervous breakdown, deciding to do her part for the state by becoming a teacher. In her eagerness to participate, however, Christa T. is ill prepared for the reality of her students, who less than ever resemble the picture of the new socialist citizen painted by the Party and the enthusiasm of the “Aufbau” years. What she is confronted with instead is the likes of Hammarubi, a student who, prompted by a bet, bites off the head of a toad—just for sport; another pupil who climbs a poplar tree and willfully smashes a bird’s eggs against a boulder; and, finally,...

(The entire section is 586 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

With the quest for Christa T., the narrator engages in a quest not only for the identity of her childhood friend but also for the identity of the socialist state—a quest that serves as a warning against the dangers of a rigidly defined political structure that gives little concern to its individual citizens. In contrast to the “arrival” literature of the 1960’s (a term based on the title of a book by Brigitte Reimann, Ankunft im Alltag, published in 1961), The Quest for Christa T. already exposes the dangers of such an “arrival” or rigidification of political structures that forecloses on the possibility of future developments. Therefore, as the narrator states at the beginning of the novel, Christa T.’s life needs to be remembered not for Christa T.’s sake but “for our sake. Because it seems that we need her.”

Wolf’s novel arrived at a time when literature in the socialist state had a clear political agenda: to establish and solidify a GDR identity and to inspire the individual to social activism. Thus, the publication of the novel immediately sparked a heated discussion. In the East, The Quest for Christa T. was severely criticized for being too personal, too pessimistic, and too unproductive as a literary model. In the West, the novel was welcomed because it was one of the first to criticize the German Democratic Republic. Although the references to real political events in the novel are rather vague,...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Fries, Marilyn Sibley, ed. Responses to Christa Wolf: Critical Essays. Detroit: Wayne State University, 1989. This collection of twenty essays deals with different aspects of Christa Wolf’s writing, from a psychological perspective to a political analysis to a feminist account of her characters.

Huyssen, Andreas. “Trace of Ernst Bloch: Reflections on Christa Wolf.” In Responses to Christa Wolf: Critical Essays, edited by Marilyn Sibley Fries. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989. Huyssen’s analysis traces the impact of Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope, a philosophical account of Marxism, on Christa Wolf’s Quest for Christa T. and explores the importance of “remembering” as a literary device.

Kuhn, Anna. Christa Wolf’s Utopian Vision. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. This book offers a thorough Marxist feminist analysis of Christa Wolf’s novels from her beginnings as a writer with Divided Heaven to Accident: News of a Day, with a separate chapter devoted to The Quest for Christa T.

Probst, Gerhard F. “Thematization of Alterity in Christa Wolf’s Nachdenken uber Christa T.The University of Dayton Review 13 (1976): 25-35. This essay examines Wolf’s technique of using a narrator to tell Christa T.’s story and the distancing this literary device allows. It also explores the different narrative voices and their relationship to one another and to the author.

Wolf, Christa. The Fourth Dimension: Interviews with Christa Wolf. Translated by Hilary Pilkington. London: Verso, 1988. This invaluable work contains essays, lectures, and interviews covering the years 1959 to 1985.