Joseph Campbell’s definition of a hero states that “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself” (Campbell 123). The concept of the hero has been present and in active use by storytellers since humans first began telling stories. Myths and legends of every culture and tradition have heroes whose purpose is to serve as role models and character lessons to those who hear or read their stories. The hero of a story can take many forms depending on the purpose of the story, reflecting the society of the writer. The purpose of post WWII German literature is largely to tell the story of those world-changing events as the individual authors felt it needed or deserved to be told at a particular point in time. As time passed, however, that purpose shifted in focus as the society shifted its focus in how the war era was to be remembered and dealt with in both politics and society. A look at the heroes of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Jurek Becker’s Jacob the Liar shows how the concept of the hero in post WWII German literature changed from the mid 1940s to the late 1960s in parallel to the societal changes in the interpretations and memories of the war that took place over the same years.
Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus: the life of the German composer Adrian Leverkühn as told by a friend is the story of Adrian Leverkühn, a composer who strives for musical perfection and wants to reach it badly enough that he literally sells his soul to the devil. The story is told by a friend of Adrian’s, a man who is often as much telling Germany’s story as he is Adrian’s. The novel was written in 1947, only two years after the close of WWII. As such...
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...he ghettos. Neither hero is greater nor lesser than the other, they simply serve different purposes with each reflecting the society as it was when their stories were written. By looking at how the heroes in the literature changed over time, one can see a clear picture of the changes in the interpretations of memory in post WWII Germany over the first few decades after the close of the war.
Becker, Jurek. Jacob the Liar. Trans. Leila Vennewitz. New York: Plume, 1997.
Campbell, Joseph and Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. Betty Sue Flowers, ed. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Herf, Jeffrey. Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1997.
Mann, Thomas. Doctor Faustus: the life of the German composer Adrian Leverkühn as told by a friend. Trans. John E. Woods. New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 1999.
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