During the final two decades of the GDR's existence, a significant
change of role can be observed in its children's literature. Until that time,
children's books had largely reflected official ideology, particularly
during the formative years of the State, when it was deemed necessary to
convince the young of the benefits of socialism and to encourage their
cooperation with the emerging system of government. By the 1970s this
role had lost its immediate relevance. Encouraged by the foundation of
institutions and publications which established a framework for the debate
of children's literature and by the apparent relaxation of restrictions on
literature introduced on Honecker's accession to office, a new, less
compliant children's literature began to emerge.
Drawing on the output of the GDR's largest children's publisher, the
Kinderbuchverlag Berlin, and concentrating on works for 7 to 13-yearolds, the aim of this thesis is to illustrate the role adopted by children's
literature during this period, as authors increasingly proffered viewpoints
and encouraged ways of thinking which differed considerably from those
the young received through the education system and the youth
organisations. Certain children's book specialists in the GDR saw this role
as so significant that they drew correlations between the messages the
young received through children's literature and the number of young
people who 'voted with their feet' in 1989.
This thesis, the first in Britain to concentrate exclusively on the
children's literature of the GDR, takes as its framework the three principal
areas of change in the children's literature of this period:
Section one examines how and with what intention authors during
the Honecker years dealt with social issues in everyday life and
concentrates on how portrayals of family life and of work and its effects on
the family were often used to highlight dissatisfaction with the social
policies of the State. In a state where censorship of the media was so
severe, children's books were increasingly used to draw attention to social
aspects ignored elsewhere. Often the messages in these books were
therefore not solely directed at a child readership.
Section two looks at the depiction of the relationship between
individual and society, examining portrayals of the socialisation process,
both in stories with an everyday setting and in a specific type of fantasy
story. The section analyses how such stories were used to encourage the
young to question authority, criticise injustices and to activate readers to
bring about change.
The third section questions the success of attempts to remove taboos
from children's literature during this period and points to the ideological
limitations within which authors operated. Despite critical portrayals of
GDR society, depictions of the fascist past and of the GDR's relationship to
other nations displayed a continued adherence to political taboos.
Completed after the Unification of Germany, the thesis concludes
with observations on the subsequent fate of the GDR's children's books and
of those involved in the field of children's literature.