Complicity, defiance and indifference : women and everyday life in Hitler's Germany as reflected in selected exile works of Anna Seghers and Irmgard Keun : a thesis in German / by Birgit Maier-Katkin.
More than fifty years after the collapse of the Third Reich, Germans are still coming to terms with the Nazi past. Increasingly literary and historical scholarship has attempted to assess the nature and extent of complicity by ordinary Germans with the criminality of the Nazi regime. Current interest in the Nazi past stems partially from the enormity of the harm that was done, but also from the fact that the post-war period was characterized by deep reluctance to recover or preserve knowledge of the recent past. At the same time, in the second half of the twentieth century, there has been increasing scholarly focus on women's issues in literature and history. This thesis draws upon both of these intellectual developments by focusing on the everyday experiences of many types of women in Nazi Germany as depicted in the exile literature of Anna Seghers and Irmgard Keun. The works selected for analysis include Das siebte Kreuz and “Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen” by Anna Seghers and Nach Mitternacht by Irmgard Keun. A textual analysis of these works is based on a method of interpretation that focuses on literature as historical artifact. “Literature as artifact” is put forward in the thesis as a new method in the field of literary criticism, but its roots in history and particularly in the Annales School are explored. The results of this method of interpretation are two-fold. First, new knowledge and understanding is generated about the varied everyday experience of ordinary women in the Third Reich. Second, the thesis demonstrates that these works by Keun and Seghers, have been undervalued by critics and deserve a clear place in the canon of German literature. Textual analysis reveals elements of quality derived from traditional literary values including intellectual content sophistication about the human condition, and elegance of expression. An argument is made that the value of the works stands out more clearly at the end of the century because readers are more open to the reexamination of the Nazi past.
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