Ursula Hegi’s novel, Stones From The River

Ursula Hegi’s novel, Stones From The River, exposes the reader of the persecutions of religious beliefs, a gossiping dwarf, and the people of Burgdorf, a small German town in the time of the Nazi Holocaust. The novel is set in World War I and continues through World War II. The Second World War is brought on by the hunger of power it is known as the otherness war. “In the Third Reich otherness is a crime. ”(Chadwick 2) Hitler, a Nazi leader, wants to gain control of Germany and surrounding countries. Hitler is a feared name even in our society today. We see things through the narrator’s eyes.

The novel has many flat characters in it. However, some characters are more developed than others are. Each character has a connection to the narrator whether he/she is a friend, a neighbor, or a bully at school. This novel is unique to Hegi because of her background. She lives in a “suburb of “Dusseldorf” before she immigrates to the United States in 1965” (Simon 1). It was unusual for her to write about this because the people who survive the holocaust never will talk about the past, they all believe in the ‘tight lip’ philosophy. In the novel Jews, Catholics, and Protestants become victims of the Nazis.

Religious prejudices are common throughout the novel. However, Hegi portrays Catholicism as the primary faith. The author scatters many fairy tales and stories inscripted about the different types of religion throughout the text. “Catholic water rusted Jewish cars. ”(Hegi 88) However, the priest says, “Protestant babies [are] pagan babies…and the Jewish babies [are] like Protestant babies,” because they are not christened. (Hegi 58) In both the Jewish and Catholic religion different beliefs and celebrations bring commeraderie to the inhabitants of Burgdorf.

While the Jews believe that Jesus is an exemplary man, but not God incarnate, the Catholics believe that Jesus lived and has died for our sins at the hands of the Romans. Catholics celebrate the Christ’s Last Supper by receiving communion, a major sacrament in Catholicism because; communion in the Catholic Church is believed to be the body and blood of Jesus. It is believed that when one receives communion that all of one’s sins will be wiped away. During the month of December the Jewish celebrate Hanukkah, while the Catholics celebrate St. Nikolaus and Christ’s birth in Christmas.

We celebrate his birth and than during Lent around Easter we reflect on his sacrifices he made for us. Hanukkah is celebrated by the lighting of the menorah. However, St. Nicholas is the hanging of stockings to be filled with candy or gifts. “That night Trudi left her shoes outside her bedroom door for St. Nickolaus, and in the morning they were filled with nuts and marzipan. ”(Hegi 110) Catholic traditions are described throughout the novel. The talk of rosaries, communion, and the confessions of Burgdorf folk are all examples given to the reader.

In the story time frame is written Jews are being discriminated against because of their beliefs and power. It is said that Hitler fears the Jews because they are powerful. The Jews are punished, shipped to concentration camps, and killed. Hitler has many followers that believe in him. Jews are dragged from their homes and if you are a non-Jew caught being nice and helping a Jew you are also arrested and possibly killed. This massacre is known as the holocaust. There are unsuspecting religious, gender, or ethnic groups fear that a massacre may happen again.

World War II is a religious war brought on to see who has more power. Innocent people fight for their countries and die to protect a fascist leader from taking over the world. Hegi brings in literary symbolism throughout her novel. There are superstitions that, “Lucifer tortured pagans and Catholics who had died without confessing their mortal sins,”(Hegi 58) are abundant in Hegi’s novel. The reader is given references into other literary works such as Dante’s Pilgrimage.

There is the description of “Lucifer used to be an angel before he fell from the sky and became the devil. Purgatory is hot, but not as hot as hell. Hegi 58) This quote refers to Dante’s travel through purgatory before getting to hell where Lucifer awaits him. The other literary reference is to The Bible. There are references to the flood and to the divine fruit related to the story of Adam & Eve. Many authors refer to other literary works. Literature is not as popular today as it was in previous history. People do not seem to read the classics like Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, and The Odyssey unless they are required to do so do a class. Now people seem to be more interested in popular fiction, the Inquirer and magazines.

The protagonist, Trudi Montag, is the narrator of the story. Trudi is a dwarf. After her mother’s death she begins to help her father, Leo Montag work at the pay-library. Trudi, while growing up, is ostracized by the other boys and girls. She does, however, have friends that carry us through the novel. Ingrid and Eva are two flat characters that are her best friends. Trudi loves all the people in Burgdorf except those marrying Klaus Malter, a flat character, including Bridgette and Jutta who were both engaged to Klaus Malter. Malter gives Trudi her first romantic interlude.

But while growing up in the Braunmeier’s barn Hans-Jurgen and friends including Georg explored her body. “Boys tore off her swimsuit and fingered her breasts…the worst thing was their curiosity, those hands that explores her difference, the voices that laughed…at the short span of her legs as they pulled them apart. ”(Hegi149) Hegi leads the reader to believe that Trudi is raped. However, she is not. Trudi is not just embarrassed she is humiliated. When the boys explored her body and pulled her thighs apart, “not to plant themselves inside her, no – but to see how far her thighs could be spread. Hegi 149)

Today rape is a growing concern among females. While rape has been a horrible crime, there is a new drug on the market called the date-rape pill or TCB. Men or women slip this into a drink as it quickly dissolves. The person drinking this drink blacks out and can not remember anything that happens to them. This drug has caused many women to be raped without their knowledge, and has even caused death. Trudi is Catholic; she goes to confession, communion, and attends the local Catholic school. However, Eva a friend with whom she attends school, is Jewish.

Trudi already learned that belonging to one religion meant getting beat up by kids of other religions. ”(Hegi 106) Trudi is always praying to God to help her grow. She goes as far as hanging from door ledges to help God out. However, she becomes bitter and angry with the Priest when he tells her that a saint for Zwergs doesn’t exist. Instead he gives her the saint of the crippled. Trudi has a hard time with praying after all of her prayers of growth go unanswered. However, being small had its advantages. She would hide in the confessionals and listen to the town folk’s confessions.

She became the town’s ‘Joan River’, a gossiping angel. Trudi goes into confession every week and goes to mass on Sunday’s and all religious holidays. Sister Adelheid a nun at the Theresienheim tries to persuade Trudi into becoming a nun. “And it is my calling to tell you about your calling” says Sister Adelheid. (Hegi 242) She wants to sneak Trudi into the Monastery to show her the living quarters. “But I am not a sister,” explains Trudi. (Hegi 242) However, reluctantly Trudi denies the offer by telling her that she does not want the same thing. Believing in a religion is not the easiest choice.

Catholics have many strict laws such as; they do not believe in birth control, divorce, and a Non-Catholic’s accepting communion. Hegi brings in the socilocultural problems of today, such as prayer in school into the novel. “And the praying, even though we aren’t allowed to pray in school, I used to say a short prayer before and after lessons,” but now we are not allowed says Ingrid. (Hegi 304) Schools today have banned religion from their studies, unless you go to a religious school. Kids today are out of control. We have gang violence, rape, and teen pregnancy.

Teach the kids about the different types of religion and see the teenage crime decline. However, this may not be true in some areas. We as a society pray everyday. We ask for forgiveness, to get an “A” on a test, and to make it home safely. We need to set a better religious example for our kids and allow them the freedom to pray in school if they feel the need. In a religiously diverse community such as the one we live in. We can allow our students to form clubs and have meetings in the school. However, many school districts in our community frown on more than one ‘bible study’.

What are they doing about the other religions? Hegi introduces the reader to a number of characters, come more developed than others. Leo Montag, Trudi’s father, is a developed character, who has an old war injury to his leg. He spends many years trying to understand his wife’s illness. After his Gertrudes death, numerous women flirt with Herr Montag, to bring him back his happiness with a possible marriage. Frau Abramowitz is the greatest of the women. Trudi “could tell that Frau Abramowitz liked her father – not just because she enjoyed bringing them things…but because she confided in him. Hegi 110)

Unfortunately for Frau Abramowitz her husband would not approve. The other females in Burgdorf also envied the love and compassion that Leo Montag has given Gertrude through the years. “The women released their secrets to Leo because they longed to be understood, loved. ”(Hegi 246) However, Leo who feels the guilt of his wife’s death will never remarry. After Gertrudes death he has Herr Abramowitz take pictures of her in her coffin. He hangs these pictures in his bedroom to always remember her. Leo Montag has a good heart. He enjoys helping others, playing chess, and listening to his women customers at the pay-library.

Men that are good listeners are hard to find. Females in our society look for several outstanding qualities in a man. Leo Montag posses them all. Hegi has created the ideal man for her readers even though he is not the main character of the story. Another character that helps with developing Trudi is her mother, Gertrude. However, Trudi knows very little about her mother. Her mother suffered from mental illness that impaired her during Trudi’s first couple of years. Gertrude runs away from home and hide throughout the town. However, her favorite hiding place is under the porch.

Trudi wants to be close to her mother, but her mother is harboring a guilt complex. Could it be that the stones in her knee? How did she get them? Gertrude tells Trudi about her knee and she was in a motorcycle accident with Emil Hepsing. Hegi gives the reader clues that Emil and Gertrude are having an affair while Leo is off fighting the war. To this day Gertrude will not even look or talk to Herr Hesping. She blames herself for Leo’s injury, although it was not her fault.

The superstitions that if you commit a sin then someone close to you will get hurt. “Because of me he got hurt. Hegi 31) Gertrude wants nothing to do with Trudi at her young age. However, she tries to make up with her after she comes home from the mental institution. Gertrude has spent three weeks in the asylum. It seems as if she improved, although it takes her having a miscarriage to send her back and she broke her promise to Trudi. “When I get back things will be better between us. ” (Hegi 40) Gertrude never returns to Burgdorf except to be buried. The loss of a parent is one of the hardest things to cope with. Trudi feels the loss like other children do. Some take for granted the love and life of a parent.

They are not always there when you need them. Live each day as your last. Trudi loves everyone in Burgdorf except, Helmut Eberhardt. Frau Eberhardt after the birth of Helmut lets Trudi hold him. He gave her a cold dark feeling. However, she does not know that her fear will come true. Helmut helps head up the SA, a group of Hitler followers. He is a vindictive man. The night before his wedding he arrests Herr Abramowitz and beats him badly. His hatred for the Jews grew daily. He will arrest anyone that helps, defends, or feeds a Jew. However, one may never come back. Helmut takes his mothers love and throws it away.

Renate Eberhardt does not go long with a wish of Helmuts and it infuriates him to a great extent. One day he has his mother arrested for disrespecting Hitler. She is never heard from again. Helmut marries a lovely girl who produces a son. With Helmut’s obsession to Hitler they name him Adolf. Trudi will not hold the young boy for the fear that he will grow up to be his father. There are many social and extreme groups in the world. However, it does not mean one has permission to disgrace his family heritage. Society today worries too much about being accepted instead of worrying about themselves.

Take a look around and discover one self before you go and try to change the world forever. Trudi yearned to live a normal life. Teachers, priests, Gestapo, and her peers ostracize her. In the small town of Burgdorf there are not many that do not know her. Trudi wants love, marriage, and sex. She looks through the marriage ads sometimes to possibly find a husband. Unfortunately, she doesn’t think she will because of her differentness. However, she took the liberty to answer an ad. She met a very loving and caring man by the name of Max Rudnick. He gives her feelings like she has never felt before.

Trudy being different than the rest provided a peaked interest to Max. He cares for her uniqueness not because she is different. Couples in today’s society are always trying to change people and make them someone they are not. If one thinks they are going to change a person’s personality and actions. Then they need to step back and take a good look at them maybe they are the ones who need to change. Stones From the River, is a wonderful novel. Hegi takes us through the World Wars and explains to us the affects they have on our society. Trudi in the novel takes in and helps shelter those who are hiding from the law.

She believes that god put her here to help others and she does, with her gift of storytelling. If we all took the time to help one another than we should all get along. Jews, blacks, gays, and cripples are looked down upon. We are programmed to see people’s flaws and to discriminate against those who have these differences. Many colleges have a diversification program that it sends all students through, but this is not solving our ignorance of race or gender. If we as a society become well educated on the horrific affects of our actions we could all live as one race, the human race.

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