Twelve Years Critical Context - Essay

Joel Agee

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The concerns that Agee re-creates in his finely organized network of separate, self-contained memories are not those of political parties: They are the concerns of a typically narcissistic and nihilistic adolescence that has rejected both itself and the adult world to which it paradoxically aspires.

Agee’s unattainable boyhood goal seems to be to forsake the childish realms of virginal ignominy without passing through the equally offensive gates of responsible maturity. The painfully slow resolution of this problematic dilemma occurs in the social and political climate of East Germany after the war, and to this extent, Agee chronicles not only his own development but also that of his adopted home. Still, Twelve Years never attempts to answer the question “What was East Germany like between the years of 1948 and 1960?” Instead, the memoir is a response to Agee’s own internal quest for memory, an answer to a self-posed question: “What did it feel like to grow up in East Germany between the years of 1948 and 1960?” The location is not central, but never irrelevant, to the author’s primary goal: the literary re-creation of his former boyhood self.

Twelve Years is not intended as a political or sociological document, but as an artistic re-creation and interpretation of a former self via the paths of memory. Literary accuracy, the correspondence between the written word and the event, between the expression and the...

(The entire section is 430 words.)