Literature in Context: Revisiting Christa Wolf in 2020

In today’s text we revisit Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf, to reflect upon how this novel can be relatable to youngsters in our pandemic world.

The novel’s Spanish edition

When you are passionate about something, it is simply natural that you want other people to feel enthusiasm towards that same thing. It could be a hobby, a person, an idea, a way of life. As a bookworm and literature teacher, I am constantly trying to come up with books which my students may find relatable.

This year, I came across a novel written by the German author Christa Wolf (1929–2011) which I think is extremely relevant in order to reflect upon several aspects of our pandemic world. Accident: A Day’s News (1987) revolves around the 1986 Chernobyl accident. The first person narrator, a writer herself, expresses her concerns, fears and thoughts as she listens to the news about the reactor’s explosion. Simultaneously, her brother is experiencing a brain surgery, so the narrator is also waiting for these other news about the surgery’s outcome. Wolf uses the stream of consciousness to make us readers enter our narrator’s mind and follow the internal turmoil she experiences as she thanks technology for giving her brother another chance to live while she witnesses the disadvantages of fierce and reckless research.There are several reasons why I believe young people could relate to this novel nowadays. These include the main character’s attitudes towards the situation she is going through, the general circumstances that the setting presents, and the themes of the text.

Firstly, as regards the narrator, throughout the text her activity is mostly mental. She does speak on the phone with friends and family, she does go to town to buy some groceries, but the focus is on her mental activity. This can be relatable for the youth nowadays: we have been told to stay indoors, with lots of restrictions in our daily lives, not only in our homes, but in our minds as well. Hence, I believe that the stream of consciousness will help young people mirror their own mental activity during these months of lockdown. How did their own thoughts and fears change throughout the pandemic? How did they express it? As the narrator of the novel, throughout 2020, we have been waiting. While she waits for the consequences of the accident to hit her and for the news about the brother, we wait for the virus to cease. In the meantime, she reflects, she writes. What are young people doing while we wait for this to end? Are they responding creatively?

Secondly, as regards the setting, I believe it is a key literary aspect that will make this text relatable to young people today. The narrator lives in Eastern Germany. She listens on the radio how the radioactive cloud is spreading through Europe. Moreover, the global context at that point is one of Cold War, nuclear deterrence, and uncertainty for citizens. There is no doubt that our youngsters have felt in a particularly piercing way the unpredictability that 2020 has brought about to all of us. We all know COVID will change our world, but we aren’t sure how this will happen. Our narrator is in the same situation: she is aware of the fact that Chernobyl is a turning point in history, but the impact this will have on personal, local, and global grounds is unclear. This tone of precariousness is key to the novel’s configuration and is one of the factors that will make it relatable to adolescents.

Thirdly, I strongly believe that the themes of the novel can deeply resonate with dilemmas that youngsters are currently being exposed to. Destruction versus creation, technological advances and its limits, the role of mass media in contemporary societies: these are some of the main themes of the novel, and I believe that they can all be linked to our present. To what extent is this pandemic a cause of us humans not caring for our planet? Can technology get out of control? How are the means of communication dealing with this pandemic? What attitudes should young people have towards the environment, technology, and social media? Although we do not have the answers yet, the themes of this novel will turn out to be extremely relevant to young people’s circumstances today, and will help them tackle them in a creative way.

All in all, I believe Accident: A Day’s News is a novel that presents several themes to which secondary school students can still relate today. Although the world has changed, the novel’s setting presents striking parallelisms with our pandemic world: uncertainty, doubts around technological advances, reconsiderations on how humans conceive the environment. By revisiting the Chernobyl accident in literary key, young people will have the opportunity to evaluate the consequences of that accident with hindsight, have access to the thoughts and feelings of the narrator, relate all this to our present and hopefully imagine a creative, healthy, and equilibrated post-pandemic world.

About the author Soledad Arienza

Me fascinan las cúpulas de Buenos Aires y el hall del Teatro San Martín. Siento predilección por algunas estaciones de la línea A. Me gusta el verano. Amo la papelería, en general, y los cuadernos y libretas, en particular.

All posts by Soledad Arienza →

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