Austerlitzby W.G. Sebald





Austerlitzby W.G. Sebald

The book, Austerlitz, by W.G. Sebald is a historical novel that accounts for a majority of the events that occurred during the Nazi era. The protagonist of the composition, Jacques Austerlitz, slowly reveals his past as he forms a friendly relationship with the narrator. From his narration, the lead character covers different historical areas, which provide a range of the aspects, and factors that resulted in the formation of his identity. Based on the accounts of Austerlitz, Sebald is able to explore historical memories by taking the reader on a journey marred by concentration camps, fortresses, libraries as well as railway stations. Nonetheless, the relevance of the novel in this case involves its implications on history and identity. Indeed, the lead character represents a person unaware of his past and his current identity, and as such, inclines the reader to try to see if there exists a relationship between history and identity as presented within the novel.

Generally, the account of Jacques Austerlitz, which is the main foundation of the composition, does not undergo narration in a traditional manner. Accordingly, the narrator is the one receiving the account of events and situations from the lead character. However, what is different from Sebald’s book in comparison to other historical ones is in accordance to the issue of identity. From the story, it is evident that the narrator does not possess any name nor does he have an apparent identity. In addition to this, the narrator lacks a significant historical background. In comparison to this, Jacques also lacks significantly as a title character since he fundamentally engages in nothing. Much of his life is only possible through existence as evidenced in the book, which records nothing that he has accomplished since he was born.

For the reader, the title character is the main catalyst for the illustration of a relationship between history and identity. In relation to the narrator, the accounts provided by Austerlitz as he encounters the unnamed person establish distinct elements that are innate of his personality. Indeed, through lengthy, melancholic and maundering stories of his life, Austerlitz influences the creation of his own persona, which he begins to unveil as the book progresses. Based on such depressing accounts, the reader begins to see that the identity of the title character is, undeniably, a dark one. This is in accordance to the experiences he faced while in Germany as well as the lack of friendly relationships he possesses with any person except for himself. In addition to this, much of the life lived by the protagonist is one induced with pain and sadness as well as a hardened disregard for his life.

Further evidence of the relationship between history and identity is in accordance to the effect of individual experiences on personality. Indeed, the accounts narrated by Austerlitz illustrate the influence of history based on the relationship between a person as well as the accidents that take place within his or her life. In relation to the title character, Austerlitz provides a background of depressing records to the narrator that enables the reader to understand more of his personality. Austerlitz offers a strong narration of the destruction fashioned by the scattering of Jews from the German city, Prague. Relating to the events that occurred during this dispersal, Austerlitz learns of his identity when a revelation occurs which states that that his real parents were Prague Jews and that he underwent adoption at the age of four (Sebald 82). Such an event portrays the title character’s influence on the relationship between history and identity.

In addition to individual events or accidents as portrayed by the protagonist, several historical circumstances continue revealing his identity to the narrator and the subsequent reader. For instance, one of the events that enable the reader to see Austerlitz’s inner psyche involves his scouting of the concentration camp in Terezen (Sebald 93). After learning of his biological parents, the title character breaks down emotionally due to the sight he sees after visiting the camp in which his mother underwent imprisonment under the acts of the Nazi. Furthermore, the lead character also advances the relationship between history and identity by speaking of old buildings. From Austerlitz, these buildings possess a relationship with history. For instance, his description of the manner in which he discovered his birthplace of Prague illustrates the association that such monuments have towards the discovery of his identity.

In conclusion, Jacques Austerlitz narrates his life in form of a story to an unnamed raconteur. The story, which captures 30 years of the lead character’s life, illustrates the evidence of a relationship between history and identity. By telling the unknown person of his tragedies and findings during their occasional encounters, Austerlitz shapes his identity by narrating melancholic and sad experiences of his own past. Indeed, such experiences enable the reader to receive a sense of the main character’s persona, which is apparently, a dark and traumatized one. In addition to this, the protagonist also provides a range of descriptions of different buildings and structures. For instance, his description of the streets in which he was born illustrates the historical relevance they possess towards his identity. Indeed, Sebald’s Austerlitzdepicts the relationship between history and identity by using Austerlitz’s experiences and recounts of historical structures.

Work Cited

Sebald, Winfred Georg. Austerlitz. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.

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