Realism in the twenty-first century novel: fictionalizing social realities in Jenny Erpenbeck's gehen, ging, gegangen and Christoph Hein's Weiskerns Nachlass
Studdard, Joanna Carolyn
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As realistic political fiction, Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen (2015) and Christoph Hein’s Weiskerns Nachlass (2011) respond to discourse on literary realism that spans the past century. Erpenbeck and Hein’s novels use culturally-dictated frames and scripts, such as recognizable character types and familiar plot setups, to communicate messages about contemporary German society, positioning the texts within the genre of realism. The texts respond to Bertolt Brecht’s theories on realism, established in his 1938 essays from Das Wort. I examine Erpenbeck and Hein’s use of realism to communicate political commentary, as well as potential outcomes of this commentary. Hein’s exploration of the academic precariat in Weiskerns Nachlass implies an insurmountable historical continuity of the undervaluing of intellectuals. Conversely, Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen’s depiction of the German refugee crisis offers suggestions for individual involvement with this ongoing issue, though legal recommendations remain beyond the author’s scope of analysis.