Hanns-Josef Ortheil's early novels Fermer, 1979 and Hecke, 1983 have male protagonists who search for self-identity in the West Germany of the 1980s. In the process, they discover that they are profoundly influenced by the lives and experiences of their parents, particularly as these lives were shaped during and by the Hitler regime. In Fermer, the 19-year old protagonist rebels against this society by going AWOL. Yet in his geographical flight and intellectual analyses he realizes his deep emotional bonds with the expectations and behavior of the parent generation. Recognition of these bonds is only the first step on a Iong and painful road toward personally independent and politically responsible adulthood. An exploration of the key concepts of order and Geborgenheit (being protected) reveals the deep-seated ambiguities in the postwar mentality of the parent generation as it is trying to instill these sentiments in their successors. The 30-year old protagonist of Hecke pieces together his mother's traumatized life during and after the Hitler regime in order to understand her emotionally stultifying hold on him. He comes to understand the manipulative power of her suffering and realizes that he must shed the burden of her displaced needs if he hopes to attain a conscious, mature self-identity. The use and the manipulation of language and its silences are the prime target of the narrator's efforts to penetrate the "protective hedges" of untold stories. Both novels conclude with the protagonists' intellectual insights into their psychological and socially conditioned make-up, but they do not—yet—carry these insights into action.
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"The Past and the Present in the Early Novels of Hanns-Josef Ortheil,"
Studies in 20th Century Literature:
2, Article 9.