Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
Christa Wolf’s novel probes the painful processes by which some German people lived through World War II, came to terms with the peacetime division, and adjusted to live in a new socialist regime. The narrator and her friend, Christa T., were girls and too young for wartime military service. After being separated for several years, they re-unite as young teachers who recently completed their studies. Christa, however, had suffered more during the war, including a mental collapse. Although she marries and has a child, the creative, emotional life of a writer seems more real to her. Christa’s death from cancer comes just before the Berlin Wall is erected. Afterward, Wolf’s narrator chronicles her efforts to rescue the ideas of this gifted but disturbed young woman and to understand the role of all young adults in the fledgling socialist state.
The constant struggle of the individual to craft his or her own identity is one central theme of the novel. In the setting of an increasingly repressive state, such individuality becomes a struggle against enforced conformity. Wolf amply demonstrates the irony of subduing individual freedom of expression in a country that had only recently emerged from a distorted nationalism predicated on obedience. Along with the general “individual versus society” theme, however, Wolf emphasizes the difficulties that young women faced. In Christa’s case, this included her frustrations as a teacher trying to educate socially conscious youth still traumatized from wartime childhoods; pressures to reproduce and literally be a mother to new citizens; and the writer’s creative frustrations arising from double discrimination against her as a female and as a traditional romantic who rejects socialist realism.
Although Christa T. dies from an illness, not at her own hands, the narrator clearly sees that society as much as cancer killed her friend. By extension, repressive social policies were lethal to truly visionary creative work that the GDR so badly needed for true social transformation. Wolf herself immigrated to the United States.