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Novel Stones

Ursula Hegi’s novel Stones from the River touches on several important political themes such as mental instability, the breakdown of the structures of traditional society, physical handicap and race. However, the common theme which runs through each is the idea of the “other. ” This “other” is the social outcast, personified most clearly through the character of Trudi Montag who despite the changing face of politics and national identity within Germany before and after the Nazi reign remains different.

Trudi’s dwarfism is a reminder to the town of Burgdorf and to Trudi herself that she will always be different. This physical defect, so to speak, marks her physically as an outsider and “other” even as her life revolves around and is directly influenced by the society from which she is kept from fully assimilating to. Trudi’s mother’s mental instability and earlier flightiness had marked her as different and created an unease in the strictures of this tightly knit community.

Her mother is not the only one exhibiting mental illness, as both wars created new outsiders as men returned from the war irrecoverably changed as exampled by the “man-who-touches-his-heart. ” As the Nazi’s rise to power, Trudi finds her own physical handicap to be shadowed by the Aryan rhetoric of Adolf Hitler in his desire to destroy and eradicate the Jews from the empire. In this new nationalism, Trudi’s neighbors and friends become marginalized and ostracized from the rest of the community.

Despite having lived, in some instances, generations within Burgdorf the Jews are now the outsiders, the “others” on which the ills of the world are heaped and blamed. Trudi, still being an outsider though through the eyes of Nazism somewhat more acceptable than the Jews (though her dwarfism could easily make her a target of ethnic cleansing) finds herself and her father acting as a stop point for Jews trying to escape persecution. This risk speaks the most loudly of the sacrifice of average and supposedly integrated Germans in defying the edicts of Nazism in favor of rational humanism.

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