Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Germanic Languages and Literature

First Advisor

Catriona MacLeod


This dissertation analyzes German-language literary texts by eight twentieth- and twenty-first-century authors whose young protagonists travel, migrate, and seek refuge due to different sociohistorical, political, and familial factors and thus must learn to negotiate various national, cultural, and linguistic contexts. The works under consideration were written by a diverse group of transnational, multilingual, and hyphenated authors: Franz Kafka, Irmgard Keun, Elias Canetti, Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Vladimir Vertlib, Yoko Tawada, Selim Özdoğan, and Saša Stanišić. Their child and adolescent protagonists often face multiple, intersecting forms of marginalization in their countries of origin and countries of arrival on the basis of factors such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age, nationality, documented status, and linguistic background. As the protagonists come of age, they begin to find their voices, affecting both their engagement with their storyworlds and the narration of their stories. The dissertation makes two significant interventions. First, as the experience of child and adolescent migrants and refugees has long been undertheorized in German studies, this is the first extended study to consider age alongside other components of identity that affect their acceptance or denial by hegemonic power structures. Second, by combining sociocultural and narratological methods that have rarely interacted in the existing scholarship on German-language migration narratives, the study develops an analytical framework to address issues of identity, politics, aesthetics, and form. This multivalent approach stands in contrast to dominant trends within German literary criticism, where fictional texts written by authors of hyphenated backgrounds are often read as thinly veiled autobiographies. The dissertation intervenes in this reductionist framework by instead reflecting on how the social, historical, and political contexts of the storyworld impact the protagonist, while also analyzing the author’s formal, linguistic, and structural choices beyond expectations of authenticity. The four chapters are organized as follows: Chapter One identifies tensions between the child focalizer and the adult narrator and traces the development of diegetic and narrative forms of agency; Chapter Two compares and contrasts traditional and informal strategies of (self-)education pursued by the young protagonists, whose access to education is often interrupted due to sociopolitical and familial factors; Chapter Three challenges the traditional notion of Heimat by considering transnational homelessness and chosen homelands; and Chapter Four explores language learning, linguistic agency, and multilingual expression. By featuring young protagonists coming of age amidst literal, linguistic, and figurative border crossings, these texts play on, reimagine, and burst open tropes of the traditional Bildungsroman genre and thus constitute a newly theorized subgenre: the modern transnational Bildungsroman in German.


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