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Essays on the works of Herta Muller.


Sample Paragraphs for essay on The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller:

Herta Muller’s cold and clinical description of factory machinery on p.106 of The Land of Green Plums subtly proposes that there are similarities between the mechanical equipment and the persona. By creating this link, Muller implies that the persona is perhaps feeling as though she is becoming machine-like herself, as the suppression of Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu’s dictatorship forces citizens to speak, act and think a certain way. Muller conveys the persona’s feeling of restriction, entrapment and tremendous fear as every aspect of her very being must be adapted, rehearsed and robotic. Connotations of machinery are used continuously throughout the paragraph as Muller emphasises the constraints the narrator feels that are pressuring the Romanian working society. Repetition of the words ‘machinery’, ‘technical’, ‘workers’ and ‘factory’ symbolise the tedious repetition of the work within the factory as the workers operate the same machines, completing the same tasks every day with no new stimulus or possibility of escape. By highlighting this, Muller stresses the bleak existence of the factory workers as they are trapped in a dead-end labour position for the rest of their lives with the only alternative being going on the run, which often resulted in assassination.

It could be debated that my effort to illustrate the theory that Muller is using hydraulic equipment to symbolise the narrator’s feeling of becoming machine-like is weakened by my lack of evidence from the text. To clarify my argument, I have selected this extract from the passage to show Muller’s subtle connections between the technology and the persona:

“In the factory I was translating instructions for hydraulic machinery.”

Muller emphasises this connection between the equipment and the persona through anthropomorphising the machines as the author depicts the persona ‘translating instructions,’ almost as if she is somehow able to (verbally or mentally) communicate with the seemingly animated apparatus. It could also be objected that sentence structure is also a technique worth analysing as Muller’s sentence layout changes faintly (from short and quick to long and slow) throughout the paragraph to suggest the narrator’s gradual change in her nature.

“The technical diagrams looked to me like something cooked up by the tin sheep and both shifts of workers. The things the workers slapped together with their hands needed no names inside with heads.”

Towards the end of the paragraph, the author uses these long, lethargic sentences and barely creates pauses’ which mirrors the long, slow and tedious nature of the factory work. It could be reasoned that this alteration in structure conveys the narrator’s emotions and she begins in work optimistic and hopeful (short sentences) but gradually saddens as the realisation of the workers’ misery arises (long, slow sentences). Therefore as Muller’s sentences drag in, so too does the factory employees’ working life. Muller’s manipulation of sentence structure here, coupled with the previously mentioned repetition of factory related words, supports the notion that the factory workers are depressed as they have to suffer through tiresome and seemingly never-ending labour.

Essay 1:

The Land of Green Plums is a novel by Herta Muller, an author who lived in communist Romania during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s totalitarian reign. The Land of Green Plums follows the story of a group of German students trapped in Romania under Ceaușescu’s regime and the novel expresses how this constraint on society substantially modified the behaviour of the Romanian’s citizens. Throughout the novel, Muller constantly uses bizarre metaphors, other linguistic games and subtext to mystify the reader as the speaker expresses how the strain of the nation’s oppression is drastically altering her character. In this essay I will argue that the Romanian’s citizens necessity to change symbolises the theme of radical adaptation (apparent throughout Muller’s prose) and illustrates that the Romanian people lived in fear of being severely punished – or even killed – to such an extent that they greatly altered every aspect of their being in order to survive. I will also argue (through close reading of an extract from p.106) that Muller successfully uses anthropomorphosis to demonstrate the similarities between the narrator and the machines she works with, making the speaker appear machine-like and desensitised which could be a representation of the speaker’s view of her own mortality.

Under the dictatorial political state, Muller illustrates that the population of Romania were stripped of their free speech, their liberty, their choices and essential their humanity. In order to survive, the population were forced to conduct themselves according to the authorities’ protocols and conform to their beliefs’ or they risk being killed. Muller conveys this theme of extreme adaptation by creating a relationship between the speaker and the machines she works with. By making this link, Muller implies that the speaker feels like she is losing her identity and personality as she becomes machine-like due to the authorities enforcement of strict rules which force Romania’s inhabitants to behave, speak and even think in a certain manner. Muller emphasises this point in this extract:

“And so the workers grew old on the job, unless they happened to run away or keel over and die.”

Muller’s abrupt and icy tone reinforces the brutal and harsh reality that the workers in the factory have no rights or freedom as they have the options of either running away and risking assassination or toiling until their heavy work load eventually kills them. The lexical choice of “keel over,” which is suggestive of an emaciated person collapsing after a long and gruelling illness, stresses the horrendous working conditions that the employees’ have to withstand which encourages the reader to feel sympathy and compassion for these characters. Muller’s dismissive demeanour in this extract is also suggestive of death being such a regular occurrence in Romanian society that the population no longer grieved for the deceased. By subtly implying this notion, Muller is also suggesting that death was no longer considered something to mourn over but seen as an escape from a life of misery and labour. Muller conveys the persona’s feeling of restriction and entrapment by implying this, which causes every aspect of her very being to become adapted and rehearsed.

Muller goes on to illuminate a connection between the equipment and the persona through anthropomorphising the machinery. Muller also uses this to infer the gradual change in the speaker from being a free thinking human in being a manufactured, numbed robot. I have selected this extract from the passage to show Muller’s subtle association between the technology and the persona:

“In the factory I was translating instructions for hydraulic machinery.”

The author depicts the persona ‘translating instructions,’ to suggest that perhaps the speaker is in fact somehow able to (whether it be verbally or telepathically) communicate with the seemingly animated machines. By anthropomorphising the machinery and implying that the persona can communicate with the devices, Muller effectively dehumanises the speaker. This could symbolise how the dictator’s rule is forcing people to lose their identity and character as the population of Romania morph into an army of trained and desensitised robots under the control of Ceaușescu. Muller’s depiction of the speaker’s dramatic change could be believed to portray the speakers growing consciousness of her own morality and her fear that if she were ever to go against Ceaușescu’s regulations, then she could be killed.

Throughout the whole text, Muller often uses these subtle techniques by means of subtext to suggest a much more serious undertone and to imply that there is a bigger picture. By doing this, Muller, without being forceful or blatant, aptly hints to and encourages the reader to discover the hidden messages for themselves. This writing style efficiently used by Muller also presents itself as a metaphor as it mirrors the encrypted, secretive language used by the Romania’s citizens to communicate amongst themselves’ in order to maintain some degree of privacy from the authorities. Muller uses these and similar ingenious linguistic techniques throughout the novel to confuse the reader and hint that the author and the characters within the novel are partially withholding information.

To conclude, Muller’s novel The Land of Green Plums could be described as a scrambled, secretive code of metaphors and sophisticated linguistic techniques to represent the effects caused by the oppressive political state during the time of communist Romania. The previously shown evidence emphasises Muller’s effective use of literary techniques, flowery language and coded prose to illustrate the sinister and tragic events that occurred in Romania during Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. Upon the first reading of the passage studied in this essay, the extract appears to be merely repetitive description of the speaker going through the motions of her job in an industrial factory. However, when the reader further inspects the passage, it becomes increasing apparent that Muller in fact smoothly using complex metaphors to interpret the speaker’s thoughts, emotions and worries about the increasing oppressive and dangerous society. This essay illustrates Muller’s expertise in metaphorical and complex prose allows her to eloquently depict the speaker’s struggle to cope with Romanian’s society negative change in dynamic.

Essay 2:

“Muller’s writing is trapped in the writing of dystopia, unable to move beyond the ethical simplicities of an evil regime oppressing innocent victims.”

The Passport, a novella by Herta Muller, follows the story of Windisch, a village miller, trying to secure passports for his family to emigrate from communist Romania to West Germany. I will be disagreeing with the above statement by illustrating how Muller (who lived in communist Romania herself) in fact uses poetic language and linguistic techniques to portray a rounded and accurate, all be it a bleak, view of Romanian society and not an imaginary or exaggerated version. I will argue that Muller’s prose is not trapped within a misleading, negative view on Romania under Ceaușescu’s regime but instead expresses a brutal one which exemplifies tragic realism. In this essay, I will discuss how Muller illustrates how the nation’s oppression results in a degradation of humanity, as authority drives Romania’s citizens into a world of: brutality and cruelty; sexism, discrimination and violence; and misery and hopelessness.

From the very beginning of the novella, Muller demonstrates that the people of Romania lived in such fear of the state that they adopted a persona of strict ‘normality’ so that they would not arouse the suspicion of the authorities. Muller illustrates this terror, in a folk lore and Gothic Horror style, as the villagers discover that the apple tree behind the village church appears to be animated and eating its own apples.

“It was an apple tree that ate its own apples… ‘God reminded me of Adam and Eve. God,’ said the bishop softly, ‘God has told me: The devil is in the apple tree.’…The juice hissed, and whined in the fire like living flesh.”

The immediacy that the villagers feel to burn and destroy the tree suggests to the reader that the Romanian people felt such anxiety and dread at the concept of something alien that they instantly assumed it was something evil. (Muller subtly indicates irony as the ethnic minority of Germans in the Banat region of Romania were in fact a community of alienated and trapped people themselves.) By using the language ‘The devil is in the apple tree,’ Muller suggests that the superstitious villagers’ believed Satan himself was possessing the plant. Muller also shows the reader (in the style of a 17th century witch-hunt) that anything viewed as new or unfamiliar was considered dangerous. Muller presents their need to destroy the seemingly mystical apple tree as proof that the public felt they must eradicate everything within the environment (and everything within themselves) that was considered abnormal, so that they could live without further surveillance and punishment from the state.

Muller uses this notion to emphasis the stranglehold that the dictator and his authorities have on the people of Romania and how they manipulated the population to act, behave and think according to their rules and regulations. This extract also highlights the recurring theme Muller proposes of nature and the elements, which is raised continuously throughout the novella. By using anthropomorphism in reference to the apple tree, Muller is reinforcing the significance of the natural world and, by humanising the apple tree, creates a connection between the Romanian people and the nature that surrounds them.

Muller suggests that the oppression is causing even the environment itself to wither, sicken and seemingly show pain, anger and sadness, stressing the misery that the totalitarian state is causing. These linguistic techniques express to the reader that Muller’s stress of the degree to which the oppression effected Romanian people is an accurate and fair and not an exaggerated representation of Romanian life. In The Women’s Review of Books, Jeanette Clausen says:

“The Passport is a good introduction to her distinctive voice and poetic use of language to evoke the experience of living under a dictatorship.”

In support of this statement, Muller’s poetic, metaphorical and symbolic style of writing here serves as a more powerful explanation of Romania’s bleak and miserable state than a literal description would have the capacity to accomplish.

In addition to the consistent reference to the elements, Muller further depicts the idea that the nature of Romania is seemingly able to feel emotion just as the people of Romania are.

“The dahlia had long breathed its last, yet it couldn’t wither.”

Muller uses anthropomorphism again by suggesting that the plant is bodily able to ‘breath’ as humans do. Muller also uses the white flower in this extract to symbolise that members of the Romanian population feel as though their souls are already dead but their bodies are physically still alive. The tragic realism of this notion shows how some of the Romanian people felt so miserable and trapped under Ceaușescu’s rule that they felt death was already upon them even in their youth and illustrates the plight of the human condition. By exemplifying that death was considered as a welcomed escape from a bleak, hopeless existence rather than something to be feared, Muller shows that her portrayal of communist Romania is not a false or fabricated view but instead a true and harrowing interpretation of living under a dictatorship.

Furthermore as Muller’s depicts the populations fear, she also illustrates how the dictatorship strained the relationship between men and women. Muller often subtly links men with the colour black (associated with death; evil; sin; and grief) and women with the colour white (associated with purity; virginity; virtue; and innocence), even though the male characters in The Passport often portray women as deceptive and promiscuous beings. Muller’s concept of using colours to represent men and women becomes increasing present when Windisch makes multiple attempts and bribes to secure exit visas. Migration proved to be a gruelling and difficult task during this time in Romania as David Rock and Stefan Wolff boldly illustrate in their book Coming Home to Germany:

“…Germany comes across as a rather desolate context in which Muller’s various biographical surrogates gradually discover how impossible it is to escape the hold of Ceaușescu’s Romania.”

This abstract from Coming Home to Germany exemplifies how challenging it was to escape Romania under Ceaușescu severe and merciless rule. In addition to this notion, Muller’s ideology of using colours in reference to gender is shown more in the latter part of the novella and in particular when Windisch resorts to sending his virgin daughter, Amalie, to the officials to offer them sexual favours in order to secure the family’s passports:

“The milky flowers on the sides of the fruit bowls are rigid…The priest takes off his black cassock…The priest strokes Amalie’s thigh. ‘Take your slip off,’ he says…Her white sandals are under the chair…It’s black and disturbed.”

In an attempt to bribe the priest and the militiaman, Amalie courageously sacrifices her virginity to ensure a better quality of life for her family. Muller expresses that the ‘milky flowers,’ being Amalie’s purity and innocence, are ‘rigid’ as Amalie feels extremely tense, dreadful and anxious at the thought of allowing the officials to take her virginity which encourages the reader to feel sympathy for Amalie. This extract exemplifies that the dictatorship affected the Romania’s citizens to such an extent that there was an drastic degradation of humanity as the pressure of the totalitarian state forced people to compromise their moral code and ethical values in order to survive. In addition to many Romanian citizens making sacrifices to benefit their family (as Amalie did), many people instead used the consequences of the oppression as an excuse to take advantage of vulnerable, deprived members of the community (as the priest and the militiaman did).

By mentioning ‘black’ several times in relation to the priest and portraying him sexually forcing himself upon Amalie, Muller reinforces the disturbing, cruel and sadistic realism present within Romania at this time. Muller shocks the reader in this extract as a priest is expected to be kind, virtuous and celibate but in fact his morality has been altered to such an extent that he is willingly taking advantage of a young innocent girl. Muller also stresses that the male characters incessantly slander and shame women in an attempt to conceal that the female characters are in fact merely innocent victims of rape, manipulation and domestic violence. By exposing this merciless brutality to the reader, Muller has daringly illustrated the cruelty and tragedy experienced by the people of Romania in a relevant and truthful manner and not in a sugar-coated, cowardly or false way.

To conclude, Muller’s ability to confront these grim themes of: cruelty; sexual discrimination; and hopelessness, while making them believable and accessible to the reader, illustrates Muller’s skill in being able to interpret and manifest her own memories of communist Romania into compelling prose. The evidence and analysis provided in this essay verify that Muller’s depiction of life under Ceaușescu’s control is indeed an accurate, unforgiving and disturbing interpretation and is not ‘trapped in the writing of dystopia.’

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