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Narrative Ethics and the Problems of Age and Aging in Annette Pehnt's Haus der Schildkröten

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Emily Jeremiah
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in German at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Frauke Matthes
Affiliation:
Lecturer in German at the University of Edinburgh.
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Summary

Given the demographic development of today's Western societies, both individuals and societies are facing ethical questions of how to deal with aging people in public as well as in private spheres. The urgency of the subject manifests itself not only in the growth of relevant academic research and self-help literature, but also in an increasing number of literary explorations of what has been a literary subject since antiquity. This chapter explores ethical problems of age and aging in Annette Pehnt's novel Haus der Schildkröten (2006), a text that forms an important contribution to these ongoing investigations. pehnt's novel deals with conflicts that arise in the lives of two middle-aged characters whose parents live in a nursing home, and in the lives of the elderly inhabitants and their professional caregivers. A focus on the relationships between these characters inevitably involves a discussion of ethics. “Ethics” here designates a system of specific mutual demands concerning the behavior of people toward themselves and others.

In our essay we shall ask, first, what conflicts arise in the novel and what the characters think is morally right. In the cases at hand, deciding what is morally right is no easy matter; for instance, there are tensions between self-fulfillment and responsibilities toward relatives. There is also the basic problem of figuring out what is right for the other person's sake, given that, owing to dementia or other age-related illnesses, this person is no longer capable of expressing her wishes. Second, we shall examine other narrative strategies that shape the ethical discourse of the novel.

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Edinburgh German Yearbook 7
Ethical Approaches in Contemporary German-Language Literature and Culture
, pp. 101 - 114
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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