How do the settings and characterizations of Stasiland influence the reader’s view of particular characters?

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1 Answer


What are the key words from this questions that you might need to understand?

• Setting – description of the physical environment (Place) and how they create atmosphere as well as evoking a particular time (both specific chronology –dates and times – as well as social and historical contexts)

• Characterisations – Sympathetic and unsympathetic personalities as “narrated” by Funder? What order can be given to the characters? Can they be categorised into groups? Is there a protagonist – a character who takes centre stage – observe how Funder tells each story? Are there antagonists? Characterisation (how a person is portrayed depends on action and dialogue) is complicated by Funder’s open bias, as she evaluates the motives and describes the personalities of each individual, although it is not always directly interventionist. It is clear, however, to whom she is sympathetic, to who she is not and who she judges. Also note, that she is reporting “memories”, “reminiscences” told to her by individuals whose stories have not be told before (at least not in English!). “Memory” is vulnerable to change for a variety of reasons – exaggeration, forgetfulness, guilt, shame, psychological trauma, etc. This does not reduce the power of the stories they tell, indeed their “implausibility” has its own fragile redolence, as the author and the reader seek to believe what many would chose not to want to believe. You may care to find out how well Funder’s text was received in Germany ...

• Stasiland – is an ironic and satirical title as no such geographic location exists, and thus already predisposes the reader to a reading that must include a questioning of what is “true” and verifiable, as against that which is “untrue” and beyond credulity. This title also “pre-characterises” its subjects matter by referring to East Germany as land embodied by police security (The Stasi) and a culture based on informers, police surveillance, personal and public betrayals, all perpetrated in the name of obedience and subservience to the priorities of the “State” – individual freedom is an anathema and such choices as might be available to an individual are based on their servile conformity to the common cause that is the GDR.

• “reader’s view of character” – While Funder may through her quasi-mystery travelogue guide the reader to an obvious conclusion (what was “fiction” may very well be stranger than what was historically considered “fact”), what “we” see is what “she” allows us to see. Her reliability as a narrator is at question, yet we may be borne along by her shared intimacy, self-deprecating humour and the diligence of her search for “untold truths”. The credibility of her characters is as much Funder’s credibility as a journalist, as it is the very human trauma that is retold by the victims of the Stasi and the continued denial and apathy (including the understandable desire to forget) of the victims’ countrymen and women.

To answer the question, you may wish to note how Funder’s first person travelogue (as an outsider in a foreign country) and her journalistic appeal and investigations are clearly embedded in her, at times, spare, vulgar, lyrical and whimsical descriptions of those places. Funder employs many evidential sources to provide added credibility to her narrative and to the retelling of her victims’ and her perpetrators’ oral testimony; these build considerable immediate geographical and historical contexts that inform and colour her subjects’ stories. Look at her use of maps, contemporary songs, her use of an advertisement to create interest, precise dates and above all personal testimonies and anecdotes. She also layers much of her writing with personal embellishments using a vibrant literary style employing metaphors, similes and flashbacks (analepsis).

Look for examples of how she describes each environment and often her journeys to those places:

• Runden Ecke in Leipzig - Hohenschonhausen prison - Stasi HQ in Normannenstrasse
• Palast der Republik - The Berlin Wall - Funders apartment that she sublets from Julia
• Room 111 Dimitroffstrasse - Contemporary History Forum Leipzig - The Stasi File Authority Office, Nuremberg

How are these described and who is closely connected to these descriptions? What purpose do these descriptions serve in establishing our sympathies (positive or negative) with each character? How does this description serve Funder’s own narrative, her own search to reveal a hidden truth? A truth that she has already made her mind-up about?

For example in Chapter 1, examine how Funder describes her initial journey and the characters that she observes and speaks with in the train station. Look at her characterisations of the "unified" Germany - note the intellectual tensions in her description, a colourless chaos of sorts in which she is perhaps going to find some order:

“In Northern Germany I inhabit the grey end of the spectrum: grey buildings, grey earth, grey birds, grey trees.”

And later:

“It is a country which no longer exists, but here I am on a train hurtling through it – its tumbledown houses and bewildered people.”

You should be able to find many other examples...

Look also to each character, and how Funder positions our sympathies according to where they live, under what conditions now and in the past and how she records their stories and with what tones she describes each individual testimony. Look particularly at:

• Miriam - Weber - Julia - Herr - Winz - Hagen - Koch - Frau - Paul - Von - Schni - Mielke – and Honecker

Also, make sure you read Chapter 26 and how Funder characterizes “The Wall” – “But this new one is a sanitised Disney version; it is history, airbrushed for effect.” How do her "witnesses" describe "The Wall" - now and from the past? “The Wall” is arguably a character and its description throughout subverts all who have lived behind it.

At the time of Funder’s publication of “Stasiland”, and perhaps even now, “The Wall” exercises a pervasive control over individual and collective memory, as well as each individual’s current emotional stability (denial, apathy or grief); an influence that is yet to release either the victim, the perpetrator or Funder (the writer).

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Thanks @Alastair! Very comprehensive response.