A Comparison of the Representation of Oppression in The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll and The Outsider by Albert Camus

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Oppression is a theme often found in works that discuss our humanity, mortality and (of course) our freedoms. The binary of freedom and oppression will come into play in most narratives which reflect upon ethics, but we find this theme most prevalently in stories which examine the nature of law and justice, in addition to those which explore the distinguishing features of our humanity. Both the texts feature protagonists who are put on trail for crimes that they were, in one way or another, unaware that they had committed. Meursault in The Outsider shoots an Arab man on a beach in a haze of sensory turmoil, while Katharina in The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum has the misfortune to fall for a convicted murderer and is accused first of helping him make his escape and later of being involved with his criminal offences. Also common to both books is the corruption of facts, either because social powers (such as the law courts or the media) are unable to understand what our characters did, or do not want to either out of fear, or out of a dark lust for the events to become a sordid tale. In these cases we are faced not only with the oppression of the ‘victims’ of the story, but also the public in general, denied by their own desire access to the truth, and of course the warping and controlling of the truth itself.

When we talk about oppression, we are most often referring to unjust treatment exerted by some kind of authority. Though that particular definition of the word does feature heavily in both The Outsider and The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, we can also find the theme of oppression in the sense of ‘mental pressure or distress’ . Both books, though more prominently The Outsider, discuss freedom in a philosophical se...

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...pression manifests itself in both of the stories in similar and familiar ways. Both of our protagonists are faced with the physical oppression of law and its power over their freedoms, and proceed to engage in an absurd struggle against the forces of law, social expectancies and falsehood. Also similar in both books is the human fear of absolute rationality, something which grants Katharina and Meursault a great deal of personal strength and freedom, but which ultimately proves to be their downfall when they are in need of appearing sympathetic or vulnerable in order to survive the judgement passed upon them.

Works Cited

Böll, Heinrich. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

Camus, Albert. The Outsider. London [etc.: Penguin Books, 1983.

Camus, Albert. The myth of Sisyphus, and other essays. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

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