The Quest for a National Identity: Images of Germany in the Works of Bernhard Schlink

By Christine Anton.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In 1995, Bernhard Schlink published a work of fiction, The Reader, a book that has become a sensational worldwide bestseller. It is the story of a German teenager who has a curious romantic affair with an older woman who once was a
guard in a concentration camp. With the depiction of the difficult moral and ethical questions with which the protagonist is confronted due to his love/hate relationship for a Nazi perpetrator, Schlink has struck a chord with many German readers. In his collection of short stories, published in 2000 and titled Flights of Love, Schlink again writes about the legacy of the Nazi past and how it interferes with the life of his central characters. In one of the stories, aptly titled “The Circumcision,” the main character, a German man, falls in love with an American-Jewish woman. But the relationship is made problematic by
the very fact that both are stereotypical representatives of their respective cultures. Through his fictional writings and his numerous essays on the Holocaust and Germany’s haunted history, Schlink has become the conscience of a nation that continues to ask itself the painful yet significant question: how can they, the German people, live their life with integrity and dignity in a
country where the dignity of others was so catastrophically ignored? In voicing his hope for a future in which the country will eventually ‘overcome the past’ and achieve some normalcy, Schlink’s works mirror Germany’s ongoing agony about its responsibility of keeping the historical memory alive in the consciousness of its nation, a nation, though, that desperately longs to leave the past behind.

Keywords: German Literature, Holocaust Literature, 20th Century History

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 7, pp.105-118. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 579.551KB).

Dr. Christine Anton

Associate Professor of German, Department of Foreign Languages, Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia, USA

Christine Anton currently holds the position of associate professor of German at Berry College. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996. She has published articles on Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Adalbert Stifter, Friedrich Schiller, and Joseph von Eichendorff, as well as a book on “Poetic Realism.” Her research and teaching interests include German literature, philosophy and culture of the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as second language acquisition, a topic on which she has also written. Before teaching at Berry College she taught at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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