With regards to the VCE English Text - Anna Funder's Stasiland - How was courage explored in Stasiland?


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How was courage explored in Anna Funder's "Stasiland"? "Courage" needs some definition, as does Funder's identification of it (she positions a reader's sympathies, revealing her own perspectives on "courage" despite her quasi-journalistic impartiality), as well as her explicit and implicit notions of "cowardice" and "apathy". It is somewhat ironic that she also reports in Chapter 7 "The Smell of Old Men", about Honecker's medal that was to be "awarded, after successful invasion, for ‘Courage in the Face of the Western Enemy’". Posthumously?

Defining Courage - There is a danger here of over-defining "courage". Is it dissent in the face of authority? The link may provide you with some other "psych" thoughts, Funder's own journey of exploration seems directed early on:

‘Well, what do you suggest I write to this guy?’ I could hear my voice getting higher. ‘Should I tell him that no-one here is interested in East Germans and their stories, because they don’t form part of our overseas image?’
‘For God’s sake!’ Scheller said. ‘You won’t find the great story of human courage you are looking for—it would have come out years ago, straight after 1989. They are just a bunch of downtrodden whingers, with a couple of mild-mannered civil rights activists among them, and only a couple at that. They just had the rotten luck to end up behind the Iron Curtain.’ He tilted his head. ‘What has gotten into you?’

How much "courage" did it take for Funder to pursue her investigation? If this was "courage" (and that is arguable at least in terms of degree) could she predict the outcomes of her actions? What were the outcomes for her "characters", for her interviewees? Could they predict their outcomes, or were they guileless, apathetic, principled, calculating or foolhardy or just plain courageous?

You might like to watch/listen to this: Anna Funder "On Courage" - http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2008/11/21/2412512.htm - 80 minutes worth!

For the reader perhaps, "Courage" is not necessarily simply physical, or spiritual or even intellectual but includes acts of conscience, as well as small acts of survival, even self-preservation, as much as gross acts of altruism and self-sacrifice. It will be for you to choose which example you think is of more or lesser importance ... "Courage" is a relative term defined often by circumstance and context, immediate instinctive acts or planned and reflective action ... some acts make a huge impact while others are dignified, proud, stoic and quite personal. Some will know the consequences of their actions - the hard way! Some will not believe the consequences of their actions and live in guilt for the rest of their lives. Some will not even consider the consequences of their actions. Is "courage" a synonym for "heroism"?

As Funder said in an interview in 2003, "I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but I think I can say now that I was looking for stories of courage. In a world that’s divided into Us and Them, it takes extreme courage to resist oppression—when you come across that kind of courage in a young woman like Miriam, it’s inspiring. I think I’m interested in it because I’m yellow-bellied myself—you’re always interested in what you don’t have." [http://www.worldpress.org/article_model.cfm?article_id=1311&dont=yes]. In look for "courage" she finds it, but does she also find other qualities that might also be described as "courageous"?

Often we see "courage" from the winner's bench, and not the losers. Does "courage" come at a cost? He does Funder "judge" the relative courageousness of characters? The term "courage" (and "courageous") is mentioned about 13 times specifically in the non-fiction novel. six reference to "hero" or "heroism" as a term, five mentions of "brave" or "bravery", but such emotive words alone do not describe acts of conscience that may exemplify other behaviours of "courage".

Chapter 19 - Klaus
‘I don’t know whether it was courage,’ he says. ‘More like some kind of naivety, that protected me, I think.’ I think he’s right here, but it is a naivety that is carefully nurtured and maintained, an innocence that he did not let them damage. ‘I mean, we didn’t all get huge villas on the Mugglesee like the Puhdys, but I can look at myself in the mirror in the morning and say, “Klaus, you did all right.” Material things are not what matter to me.’
He leans back. The smoke leaving his mouth obscures it in a haze of grey, and grey beard. ‘I think the Stasi people have been punished enough.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, if they’ve got any conscience at all…’
‘And if not?’ I think of Herr Winz and Herr Christian and Herr Koch and the different kinds of conscience there are.

What does this say about "courage"?

Some characters you might like to consider in terms of the question:

  • Miriam Weber throughout - a key focus for Funder's characterisation
    of "courage"?

Passing a building where some of their classmates lived, they put leaflets in the letterboxes of two boys they knew. The next day, one of the parents rang the police.
‘Why would you call the police about some junk mail?’ I ask.
‘Because they were silly, or maybe they were in the Party, who knows?’
‘It seems so harmless,’ I say.
Miriam comes back quiet but strong. ‘At that time it was not harmless. It was the crime of sedition.’

  • Charlie - His loss and symbolic presence
  • Julia?
  • Sigrid Paul?
  • Klaus Renft?

Contrast these "characters" and Funder's reportage of them (characterization and sympathy?)with the Stasi operatives. Were any of the Stasi "courageous"? Repentant or unrepentant?:

  • Von Schnitzler?
  • Herr Christian?
  • Herr Winz?
  • Herr Bock?
  • Hagen Koch and Heinz Koch? ‘My little private revenge,’ he says. ‘That plate’—he looks straight at me—‘was all I had the courage for.’
  • Herr Bohnsack - Are his action eventually courageous or self-serving? How does Funder portray him?
  • Julia's decsription of "Major N'

Much of our "trust" as a reader in dependent on Funder's ability to create "the essence of truth" and to that extent "the essence of courage" in the face of adversity of all types. Some she judges well (as they are the victims whose story has not been told); the reader's sympathy may be complicit here? Equally, some she judges as less than "courageous" (perpetrators without guilt, without conscience perhaps) and we, as the reader, may also read on in bewilderment that they could not see the error of their ways. But can we clearly see the "courage" of those who chose another road and the price they had to pay?