The two stories in question portray life in the DDR in different ways. ‘Grossvater und die Bestimmer’ is about a family living on a farm in the DDR, and ‘der Verdächtige’ tells the story of a man who believes he is under suspicion by the Stasi. However, both writers depict the theme of the outsider in their stories. This essay will demonstrate the ways in which the outsiders of these tales can be considered as outsiders, why they are outsiders and the consequences of this.
Both stories are told in the first-person narrative, therefore it is ironic that the outsider in both stories seems to be the narrator. In ‘Grossvater und die Bestimmer’, Daniel can be considered an outsider, even within his own narrative, given that Hein focuses the story more so on the family and its history, rather than Daniel himself. In contrast to this, ‘Der Verdächtige’ focuses almost solely on its protagonist and narrator which highlights his position as an outsider, given that Becker barely gives the main character any friends or relatives.
Furthermore, through an examination of personality, we discover that Daniel is an outsider in the sense that he seems to live in his own imagination. Take for example the “schwarzer Kunststoffkasten, eine viereckige Box, in der es leise summte”.1 In Daniel’s young mind, something so mundane becomes “ein gro?es Spinnennest”.2 His imagination and curiosity distinguishes and isolates him from his grandfather, who holds a more serious demeanour, and who Daniel looks up to. In contrast to this, ‘der Verdächtige’ is an outsider in the way that he becomes so isolated from society that he separates from his girlfriend and no longer spends lunchtime with his colleagues. Instead, “ich brachte mir belegte Brote und zu trinken mit und blieb an meinem Schreibtisch sitzen”.3 It could even be said that he disconnects from culture:
Ich schaffte alle Bücher und Journale fort, deren Besitz ein schiefes Licht auf den Besitzer werfen konnte … Das Radio und den Fernsehapparat schaltete ich mitunter ein, natürlich nur zu Sendungen, die ich mir früher niemals angehört und angesehen hatte.4
Thus, through comparing the depiction of outsiders by both authors, it is clear that being an outsider can mean becoming isolated in more ways than just being lonely. In the case of Daniel, it can mean that you’re different from those around you, or in the case of ‘der Verdächtige’, that you become detached from society, television and literature.
In discussing the ways in which these characters are outsiders, the reasons for this need also be examined. Possibly the main thing that isolates Daniel in ‘Grossvater und die Bestimmer’ is his age. He is isolated by his older brother because he “hatte für mich keine Zeit, er hatte seine Freunde, mit denen er zu Hause durch die Stadt zog, und konnte es überhaupt nicht leiden, wenn ich auftauchte und mich ihnen anschlie?en wollte”.5 In a way his grandfather also isolates him, only instead of his age, it is Daniel’s strength (or lack thereof), “meine Muskeln wuchsen trotz aller Plackerei überhaupt nicht”,6 which prohibits him from being a part of the masculine world to which his grandfather belongs. His grandfather is equally disapproving of Daniel’s preference to read books, “ohne etwas Vernünftiges zu tun”,7 this behaviour contrasting with his grandfather’s ideals of masculinity. Therefore, he is cast as an outsider by the male members of his family and as a result, an outsider of the masculine world to which he longs to be a part of.
In contrast to this, the protagonist of ‘der Verdächtige’ seems to possess characteristics of someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, his paranoia forcing him to believe that he is under surveillance by the Stasi which in turn leads him to isolate himself, “Ich mu?te also, wollte ich den Verdacht entkräften, nur lange genug nichts tun und nichts mehr sagen, dann würde er mangels Nahrung aufgegeben werden müssen”.8 Ironically, he isolates himself from society to make himself inconspicuous, but his almost capricious personality only makes him seem more suspect. Furthermore, he is an outsider in his workplace, since his colleagues choose to ignore his change in behaviour, asking themselves “Was geht es uns an?”.9 Therefore although it is partly by choice that he becomes an outsider, those around him allow it to happen, having no urge to aid him despite his jarring change in personality. Moreover, while it is partly a conscious decision, his descent into isolation also comes about because of the paranoia caused by living in a totalitarian state, and his desire to be seen as any other normal citizen, “Ich bitte, mir zu glauben, da? ich die Sicherheit des Staates für etwas halte, das wert ist, mit beinah aller Kraft geschützt zu werden”.10
Given these situations, it is only natural that these characters face consequences of being almost marginalised by family in one case and the state in the other. Being an outsider seems to force Daniel to be apprehensive towards his grandfather:
Aber ich wusste auch ohne ihre Ermahnung, dass ich Gro?vater nichts von dem Spinnennest im schwarzen Kasten erzählen durften. Er würde mir einen kräftigen Stups geben und wieder einmal sagen: „Der Junge liest zu viel, das ist nicht gut für den Kopf”. 11
Daniel is conscious that his grandfather disapproves of his behaviour and therefore, even though Daniel is clearly fearful of the “Spinnennest”,12 he doesn’t approach his grandfather about this issue. Often a grandfather conjures up images of kindness and protection but this Grandfather’s lack of it forces his grandson to become isolated and keep his thoughts to himself. Yet if it wasn’t for the fact that Daniel is, to an extent, an outsider, Hein’s story wouldn’t be fully effective, the key element of the story being that the reader experiences these events from a child’s point of view looking into an adult world. This innocent ignorance of a child manifests itself in the conversation he has with Dorle about “Die Partei”, telling about “Die Bestimmer” who decide “Alles”.13 His attempt to play the adult in telling his sister about the situation, although he doesn’t fully understand it himself, mirrors the role he plays within the story. Daniel’s perception of events being the only one the reader receives, so if Daniel was an adult for example, the story would not have the same effect.
In the case of ‘Der Verdächtige’, the main character seems, on the surface, relatively impervious to being isolated. Regarding his separation, he speaks with such a tone that depicts him in an ambivalent manner, showing little emotion, “Am ersten Abend nach der Trennung war ich einsam, die ersten beiden Nächte träumte ich nicht gut”.14 He speaks of pain, showing that the separation has had an impact on him, however he speaks rather abruptly when talking about overcoming it, “dann war der Abschiedsschmerz überwunden”.15 This suggests that while it may cause some pain, he is willing to cut himself off as he truly believes that it will dispel any suspicion surrounding him. Following this, due to his now solitary life, being so isolated only forces him to spiral deeper, becoming increasingly alone and his lifestyle to become unhealthy. He constantly questions and rethinks his actions, only causing him to become more and more detached from his former self. It must also be mentioned that towards the end he has a striking realisation: “ich spürte schon die Entschlossenheit, nicht noch ein zweites Jahr so hinzuleben”.16 Through this, Becker shows that it is possible to bring oneself back into the real world, despite how cut-off we may become.
Hein has made his narrator an outsider very purposefully, to give an interesting portrayal of life in the DDR, as experienced by a child. Similarly, Becker chooses to make his narrator an outsider to show the ways in which living under a totalitarian regime can impact someone’s everyday life. Although perhaps not a primary theme in the stories, both Hein and Becker have made effective use of their narrators and the theme of the outsider in order to present two interesting yet different viewpoints of life in the DDR.
Becker, Jurek, “Der Verdächtige”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 159-176.
Hein, Christoph, “Grossvater und die Bestimmer”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 116-157.
1 Christoph Hein, “Grossvater und die Bestimmer”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 116-157, here: p. 124.
2 Ibid., p. 126.
3 Jurek Becker, “Der Verdächtige”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 159-176, here: p. 166.
4 Ibid., p. 168.
5 Christoph Hein, “Grossvater und die Bestimmer”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 116-157, here: p. 130.
6 Ibid., p. 136.
7 Ibid., p. 134.
8 Jurek Becker, “Der Verdächtige”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 159-176, here: p. 164.
9 Ibid., p. 166.
10 Ibid., p. 160.
11 Christoph Hein, “Grossvater und die Bestimmer”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 116-157, here: p. 128.
13 Ibid., p. 154.
14 Jurek Becker, “Der Verdächtige”, in: Ernst Zillikens (ed. & trans.), Short Stories in German/ Erzählungen auf Deutsch (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 159-176, here: p. 164.
16 Ibid., p. 174.