Das Marchen als Grenzerfahrung: Zur Polysemie von Ursprung, Auszug und Heimkehr

Date of Completion

January 2005


Literature, Germanic




My dissertation examines concepts of Home and Otherness in selected nineteenth-century fairy tales (by Amalia Schoppe, Heinrich Heine, Elisabeth Ebeling, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Hugo von Hofmannsthal). Influenced by Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined communities" and Susanne Zantop's investigations of "colonial fantasies," I analyze the fairy tale's traditional plot (home/stasis, journey/crisis, homecoming/stasis) and its juxtaposition of home and foreignness as a template for group affiliations based on race, gender, religion, culture, and nation. Rather than viewing the spheres of home and the foreign land as separate entities, however, I center my discussion on the hero(ine)'s deliberate transgression of the imagined boundaries that establish and segregate two distinct spaces. ^ The fairy tale's plot, the hero(ine)'s quest, is traditionally characterized by essential differences between familiar and unfamiliar spheres and by an effort to (re)construct a primordial harmony. Taking into consideration recent debates on cultural and individual identity in postcolonial, feminist and cultural studies (e.g., Bhabha, Stanford Friedman, Sollors, Clifford), I focus on the process of border-crossing as negotiations and constructions of (cultural, national, racial, gender, or modern) identity. I interpret the hero(ine)'s quest as an ongoing formation and reformation of home (roots) through the encounter of Otherness (routes), and the protagonist's return---the fairy tale's happy end---as a possible "symbiosis between roots and routes" (Stanford Friedman). ^ This approach establishes nineteenth-century fairy tales as spaces of identity that do not only (re)present a certain cultural community but also, and more importantly, identify an increasing need to defend, negotiate or reject an isomorphism of Home in a century of enormous sociopolitical changes, increasing individual choices, and multiplying meanings of identity. Thus, my dissertation offers an original perspective on the cultural importance and the (ongoing) popularity of the genre: I argue that the imagination of hybrid identities, produced by varying practices of border-crossing, is a crucial characteristic of the genre, and that it is the attraction and/or aversion to hybridity that causes the "German obsession with fairy tales" (Zipes) in the nineteenth century and ever after. ^