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Novels of Katharina Blum and the Sailor



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    Looking at the novels of, ‘The Lost honour of Katharina Blum’ and ‘The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea’,  examine how the authors, Heinrich Boll and Yukio Mishima create the roles of Katharina Blum and Ryuji in regard to the theme of honour.

    In the two novels, “The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum” and “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea,” by authors Heinrich Boll and Yukio Mishima, narrated stories which were marked as fiction that had a bit of realistic punch with regards to the plot and theme of the stories.  There were several themes apparent in the two novels including love, jealousy, betrayal and honour but among these four, honour was the most distinguishable and dominant. Boll and Mishima both utilized singular main characters namely Katharina Blum of “The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum” and Ryuji of “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” to symbolize the significance of honour. The individuality o f the characters of Katharina Blum and Ryuji were reflected through their actions. More so, Katharina Blum and Ryuji have undergone the most character development compared to others mentioned in the two novels. Both characters were driven by honour but demonstrated honour in two different perspectives.  In “The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum,” Katharina Blum portrayed honour as an act of regaining a once lost social reputation where as Ryuji considered honour as an impersonal integrity “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.”

    In the novel of Heinrich Boll, Katharina Blum was described as an independent, hardworking and successful housekeeper who came from an economically-challenged family. Early on in her life, her father died while her mother became alcoholic and her brother ended up in jail. Then, she met a man named Ludwig Gotten whom she fell in love with at first sight. Her relationship with Ludwig Gotten, who was a suspected terrorist, influenced her to act out of character by being prudish specifically with regards to sexual matters. Because of her affiliation with Gotten, the police arrested her from her apartment for interrogation. This event showed the first incident of how the media contributed to degradation of lives and as well as honour of many innocent people. As stated in the novel, “She was photographed repeatedly from the front, from behind, and from the side.”  In addition, this quote emphasized how the media took away her private space and freedom. Boll used this quote as a metaphoric irony of Blum’s unlawful arrest that showed the biased treatment of the police when instead she was just suppose to be interrogated to obtain some information.

    Katharina’s reputation had gotten tainted because of the lies reported by the media. Her honor and dignity have been subjected to public scrutiny. The media took her story and manipulated it according to their liking. This particular circumstance indicated the lack of recognition for one’s security and showed that the search for ‘evident truth’ was at utmost importance which was manifested in this scene, “Beizemenne allegedly asked the maddeningly composed Katharina as she leaned against her counter, Well, did he fuck you?.”[1]

    Katharina Blum’s character was somehow similar with the life of its author. Boll was also accused of hiding a criminal during the World War II.  Through realism, Boll used Katharina Blum’s actions to convey imagery in the mind of the readers to illustrate an environment that not only highlighted his own personal situation but also the representation of women in the West German Society as the underprivileged working class who were described as compassionate but powerless.  Boll’s texts never questioned the legitimacy of the police in the investigation of Katharina Blum. However, he criticized the police’s failure to protect her from journalists who described her as a ‘prostitute’ and a ‘murderer’s bride’ that suggested that she was sympathetic to communists and terrorists.  Similar to Boll’s situation, Katharina Blum also lost her honour for a cause for the rights of the underprivileged people of 1971-1972.  It showed the readers how the state can become violent when they conduct arrests to suspected enemies of the state. In the case of Katharina Blum, she was blatantly arrested, in which violated her privacy. Because of this, she was also subjected to humiliating interrogations.  Most importantly, the police did not protect her from impartial portrayal of her in the news that damaged her honour.

                Boll used a journalist report technique and indirect speech format to report conversations between the characters. He utilized Totges to narrate his novel with a tone of accuracy.  This type of narrative structure used by Boll was very effective in demonstrating contrast and showing the biased point of views of the reporters as seen on several media sources such as newspaper articles and police reports which was described in this scene, “There is evidence to show that Beizmenne, who is said to be not all that bad.” [2]

    People from the media not only get wrong information but they also reconstruct events to make it more intriguing in order to attract more readers to buy their ‘news’ which usually highlighted the plight of the bourgeoisie and working class.  This was evident in this scene, “Katharina Blum, Outlaw’s Sweetheart, Refuses Information on Male Visitors.”[3]

    The main purpose why Boll used this quote was to show how media used captivating titles to attract their readers which showed their poor work ethics. They make money by concealing the truth at the expense of other people. However, this narrative clearly described the lost of honour of Katharina Blum as her personal life was misrepresented: “Gotten be withheld.” “But you don’t see….”

    I think Boll employed a ‘straight forward’ style to address the socio-historical background of the theme of honour which was seen when Katharina Blum experienced physical violence. This showed how honour was so important during the time of Boll.

    In “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea,” the character Ryuji had similar qualities with Katharina Blum in “The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.” Despite the fact that the two authors were from different socio historical backgrounds, the main characters in their respective literary works were somehow identical.  Ryuji was a young sailor of post-war Japan who was described as an assiduous, passionate and honorable man. More so, Mishima developed this novel based on his concepts and opinions about of his own life.

      With the heavy influence of the Japanese culture, Mishima used Ryuji as an instrument to impart his thoughts and beliefs to his readers which focused around honour.  During his time, the Japanese were often associated with having glory and honour and strong beliefs in committing suicide for honour called the ‘Samurai’s death’.  More so, death was widely perceived as honorable in the Japanese society. Mishima described this tradition in this particular text in the novel, “An unknown glory calling for him endlessly from the dark offing.” [4]

    This quote showed how Ryuji acquired his honour from the sea and his regret for giving it up for a woman.  This particular passage by Mishima showcased how the use of imagery and good choice of words like ‘dark offing’ can accurately depict a devastating loss, which in this case was Ryuji’s honour.

    Furthermore, Ryuji was portrayed as a father figure to Noboro. Ryuji was revered as a sailor and as a respectable man. Also, this representation grabbed the attention of many Japanese because of Ryuji’s hero-like qualities.  But as Ryuji fell in love, he began to lose his social status and because of this his world suddenly turned upside down just like what happened to Katharina Blum in “The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum” which was described in this line, “Yet when another had been attained, the other two withdrew.” [5]

    As a result, Noboro and the other kids planned to kill him because for them death was an honorable act to do and it was the only way to help Ryuji get his honour back as stated in this scene, “When a gear slips out of place it’s our job to force it back into position.” [6] This line also showed how males can do violent things in recognition of honour.

    Katharina and Ryuji were considered as symbols of honour. More so, both characters lost their honour when they became more westernized.  Although, the concept of honourable death exists in the western culture, it still contradicted with Japan’s definition of honour because Japanese accepted suicidal death as a form of an honorable act.

    Ryuji’s honour was from the adventure of sailing.  It expressed the meaning of his life which was described as lonely and loveless. Moreover,  Noboro was described in the same in a way as Ryuji because both have  similar idiosyncratic and eccentric personalities. But when Ryuji decided to stay on land to seek the love of Noboro’s mother, Ryuji knew that he will lose his honour and glory because he was going to leave his life as a sailor.

    On the contrary, Katharina was differently characterized from Ryuji.  She was depicted as a very kind, honest and faithful woman.  Because of her desire to help people who coincidentally had criminal records, she was immediately branded by the media as a terrorist and a nihilist.  Hence, due to Katharina’s ‘dishonour’, her mother was killed. As a result, Katharina killed Totges whom she suspected as the person who instigated all the rumors about her involvement with terrorism.  Furthermore, she thought that through revenge she can redeem herself and restore her honour that showed her naïve side.

    In conclusion, the two authors used different narrative styles to portray their socio-historical background.  Both utilized language as an emphasis of the theme which was about honour.  Ryuji’s honour originated from his lonely adventure that seemed unrealistic. Meanwhile, Katharina’s honour was based on her kindness and honesty. The authors described two different kinds of honour that showed the different perceptions about honour. However, both characters’ honour was destroyed by love and was restored at the expense of another life.  Although the characters have a nihilistic point of view, the authors managed to characterize them as people in search of the truth for honour.  Overall, honour symbolized the nihilism of the authors. More so, the two novels emphasized that nothing is more important than having or getting your honour back.  It showed that honour is an essential part of a person’s life.


    BOLL, Heinrich. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum translated by Leila Vennewit. United Kingdom, Vintage, 2000.

    MISHIMA, Yukio. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. United Kingdom, Vintage, 2006.

    [1]  H. Boll, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, United Kingdom, Vintage, 2000, p. 19.

    [2]              Boll, p. 20.
    [3]              Boll, p. 36.
    [4]           Y. Mishima,The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, United Kingdom, Vintage, UK, 2006, p. 179.
    [5]           Mishima, p. 180.
    [6]           Mishima, p. 162.

    Novels of Katharina Blum and the Sailor. (2017, Apr 18). Retrieved from

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