What is the effect of Funder’s first person narrative style in Stasiland?

Set in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stasiland, by Anna Funder, recreates a “land gone wrong” and attempts to explore the lasting influence that the meticulous and pervasive secret police agency, the Stasi had on its own citizens. A work of literary journalism that deviates from the traditional modes of historiography, Funder uses a first person narrative style to create a believable world where people were broken “just like fiction”.  She elucidates and conveys the extraordinary courage displayed as well as the perpetual misery endured by the victims. At the same time, her first narrative serves as an interpretation of her views and attitudes towards the current German mentality and the Stasi, portraying them as “innovators” and “Faustian bargain hunters” whose pervading impact still lingers in the minds of their victims.

Funder’s use of precise and highly metaphorical language helps convey the sheer brutality that the victims of a regime that was “obsessed with detail” experienced. Whilst it replicates the assiduousness of the unofficial biographies that the Stasi enacted, it contrasts in the way that it reinstates the individuality that was irrevocably denied to them.  Funder’s figurative language truly expresses the extent to which Miriam’s present is “no longer real to her”, destroyed by Stasi and their inventive malice. When Funder first meets Miriam, she vividly draws attention to the “small still women in a stream of alighting passenger”, highlighting the fragility of her soul. She shows that whilst everyone is moving forward, Miriam is standing still, being dragged back by a past that haunts Despite Miriam’s seemingly newfound “light” in life in the last chapter titled “Miriam and Charlie”, Funder carefully observes that “for now the beasts are all in their cages” and that all that has changed is that she “blowing smoke” now. This demonstrates to the reader how in many ways, despite this newfound forward attitude, the psychological damage cannot be easily reversed, a theme that pervades in the text .Similarly, Julia’s pain and suffering is captured by Funder through her detailed descriptions, observing how as Julia recounts her horrific past, she recedes into a “small black ball” formed from the “layers of black” she is wearing. Like Miriam, she too is unable to truly relinquish the past, a “child” who is still so “vulnerable” as depicted by Funder at the end.

Funder’s authoritarian voice serves to portray the Stasi actions as unjustifiable, using it to her advantage to further debilitate the regime and those who brazenly defend it.  She expresses disbelief and shock at some of the view presented by the Stasi perpetrators; how they still desperate cling onto the past. Von Schnitzler, the face of the GDR is ridiculed by Funder. Before Funder’s encounter with von Schnitzler, she already sets him up as someone who should be despised. Placed conveniently prior to her interview with von Schnitzler, she recounts how she watches a tape of his ludicrous yet horrifying speech, shocked how a man could easily turn “inhumanity into humanity” and “deaths into symbols of salvation”. Furthermore, evidence of Funder’s lack of respect for von Schnitzler is presented in the chapter heading where his name is hyphened. This grammatical technique is carried into her subsequent interview with him, coupling this with eclipses and exclamation marks to make his justification seem more like a rant with no basis to it. This along with her assertive narration that caricaturises him, discredits his opinion that the Wall was the “most useful construction in all of German history” needed to “defend a threatened nation”. His stubborn, zealous belief that the Wall was necessary is a nation that Funder cannot comprehend and is she outraged by it. She tries to someway justify his mentality by saying that he had been so “accustomed to such power that the truth does not matter because you cannot be contradicted. Through the powers of first person narration, Funder is able to express her opinion regarding perpetrators such as von Schnitzler, showing the bizarre realities that the GDR created.

Funder’s characterisation of herself in Stasiland through her first person narrative powers helps guide and establish a relationship with her audience who are likely to be composed of outsiders like herself, unfamiliar and unaware of “twentieth century experiment on humans”. Establishing herself as an outsider, Funder takes readers on a personal journey into distinctive palatable “horror romance” and as her “perspective of a lost world grows”, so does our comprehension of an alienated world. As such, her narrative voice is often tinged with humour to help her readers understand such a distorted “fiction” like world.   We are influenced to despise the regime, through the “mental ridicule” that Funder makes of the “street ballet of the deaf and dumb”, where “agents signalling to each other from corner to corner”. She conveys her bewilderment through the seemingly small events that she observes, paying careful attention to how the tram stops in the middle of the road with no pedestrians and the swimming pool that is used as a “bathing” pool. She cannot comprehend this and thus satirises the “mess that gives rise to all that order” and drawing the parallel of the pool being representative of   German bewildering society, how the “orderly chaos” was like the “subconscious of the country”. In order to underscore the importance of the need to “paint portraits”, to remember the distinctive individual stories who are being forgotten, her own journey serves a means to express this.

Funder undergoes an adventure in a distorted version of “Alice in Wonderland” as she rediscovers and a tries to grasp a perspective of a society where “what was said was not real and what was real was not allowed”. In an attempt to understand and express a world that defies logic, Funder employs a unique writing style, giving a first-person insight that helps capture an ostensibly realistic depiction of a vanished time. Her precise characterisation, description language and assertive voice come together, restoring the identity and humanity to the victims that the Stasi permanently denied.

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