They Divided the Sky, by Christa Wolf's Der Geteilte Himmel

Rita, a character in the tale, narrates it in flashback form. After a protracted series of events that led to her making an attempt at suicide, she is now lying in a hospital bed. She had encountered these situations while working in a plant. She was 35 years old at the moment, but a flashback to when she was 19 occurred to her. At this time, she first met Manfred Herrfurth. Additionally, he was around 20 years old and a recent engineering graduate. Rita meets Manfred when she is offered a chance to study at a university that was close to where Manfred lived. They hit it off quite will and decide to move closer to each other. Soon after they become lovers as Manfred went on to introduce Rita to adulthood by teaching her about life. Through her adult life Rita tries to deal with the prejudice of her sex. Manfred helped her but she acknowledges Rolf Meternagel as her role model. She states that she has learned important work ethics and how to deal with the society from Rolf. Rolf is a representation of a generation in Germany that was trying to adopt new ideals amid the constant resentment and stringent laws by the government. The author, Christa Wolf, is portraying some of these new ideals through the story. This paper will focus on feminism and how it is achieved through the story.

The story starts off with Rita as the protagonist as she is recovering from consciousness in a hospital and is trying to recapture the events going on in her life. She is suffering from depression and psychological trauma that has led her into attempting suicide. Her process of recovery over several weeks develops the basis of the narrative through a flash back. Rita is a woman that grew up in a rural part of East Germany. Her first encounter with tough reality was when she travels for further studies and meets Manfred; this man would have a major impact in her life. The author however tries to depict her struggle and quest to fit in with the society. The society of the time is slowly accepting women rights. This is seen through the acceptance of Rita as a worker at the railway, at the insurance office, and as a teacher. However, she still has to deal with other life issues. This seemed to pose a major challenge for Rita. She was having a hard time dealing with men she met including Manfred.

After she decides to take on training as a teacher, Rita is forced to move in with Manfred’s parents. She slowly realizes Manfred’s hatred towards his own family and his belittling treatment towards. He recalls a time that Manfred told her that she could not stick it out and advised her to take on teaching rather than any other job. He was not doing that in good faith but to belittle. This is not the first encounter of infantilism and pre-feminism Rita encounters. Manfred slowly becomes sexist and patronizing towards Rita. Because of this Rita begins to suffer from emotional struggles as she tried to deal with Manfred.

While working at the railway carriage Rita meets a lot of men who were working with her under the Communist System. This is a system that saw women being included but the men were the majority. These men would patronize Rita and the other group of the minority women. The author also mentioned that workers in managerial roles were all men. During this time, the majority of the men believed that women are incapable of playing similar roles as men. Through her experience at the factory, Rita gets to understand the dilemmas facing people working under the communist system along with the rules and regulations by the state. Unlike Rita, Manfred seems uninterested with the situations at his job. He is only interested with his progress and how he could complete his projects.

A sense of nostalgia is developed as the author describes Rita’s transition into adulthood. Christa makes a depiction of East Germany in the early 60s and how people were struggling to make ends meet. She describes a country that is filled with smog from factories and compares it with the restorative nature of Rita’s home village. This is symbolic depiction of Rita’s life how her childhood was once serene and peaceful and how her life had change as she became older and moved to the polluted city.

The author also makes a reference to the conditions under communism both within the factory and outside in various aspects including Rita’s and Manfred’s experiences. She establishes factors such as workforce attitude, tyranny, the quest for pride and solidarity, and the norms within the people. Work organization especially in places like the factory saw people struggling to meet productivity goals. This is where roles were defined, the men given leadership roles and other major responsibilities while the women forced to settle for what they were offered. The society saw subjective freedom of speech and expression. People especially women and minority individuals are afraid to speak their minds especially in public. Speaking up or fighting for equity was risking a job. The society was not enlightened as the women in the society did not seem to push for equity. Rita is suffering in silence as her husband emotionally tortures her while she is struggling with her professional or career life.

Christa depicts a society that is slowly changing in the background. The social norms are changing as the population is getting educated. Before education, woman like Rita could not manage to compete with men. Given that, the men were slowly becoming threatened by this gradual change (Wolf 2013, p.42). This is seen through Manfred’s reaction to Rita’s educational prowess. Once he realizes that she has potential he decides to demoralize her and advising her to settle for teaching. The country was encouraging education as it strived to develop new technology to aid the country in security strategies. Manfred’s treatment of Rita regarding her prowess shows the kind of sexism present in the day. Even as the men saw the women establish themselves they still do not want to acknowledge them and take the slightest chance to belittle them. This is seen when Rita goes with her boss Wenland for a drink, Winland orders for her without caring to ask her preferences.

Rita faces various challenges in her life including the incident at the factory and her struggle with her relationship. These struggles enable Rita to became better and develop better ideals. She watches people around like the people she worked with at the factory. She slowly begins to pull away from Manfred as she continued to develop independent ideas on relationships. Through the instance whereby Rita closes the door on her sick friend Meternagel, the author depicts Rita change of character and signified new chapter in her life. The author depicted feminism as a personal struggle at the time. (Wolf 2013, p.22). The society was slowly changing but the change into a feminist society was quite drastic. The change had to begin individually this is how Rita managed to break free.

Analysis of the Theme

Christa Wolf developed a love story but also created a focus on the people and landscapes in the East Germany in the 60s. She characterizes various aspects of human behavior in a society full of communist structures. She describes a society with complex behavior and how the people were continually impacting their social order. In regards to feminism, the society was going through numerous changes. Feminism was one of them women in the community were dealing with emotional and physical abuse by men. Christa is trying to depict this change through the life of Rita.

The books main theme is a focus on the struggles faced by Rita, a representation of an average woman of the society. In the book Christa explores how political and economic explorations and how the two factors have affected the gender parity or equality in the country. After the publication of the book it became significantly popular and influential because of its indebt analysis of the German history. The book was received well by scholars and academics that become appealed by the critical thesis of the book. Most of them argued that Christa’s book simplified historical forces of the communist era something only few had managed to do at the time. Furthermore, the book provided a clear answer to the question of what could have been causing the lack of development in the country during the communist era. From the book, Christa believes that the only way that human development can be attained is through the transformation whereby the people had to change their lives by striving to change their current affairs by reshaping and replacing the norms or ideals that were unjust and were negatively affecting the people’s way of life. Through this she believes that women will be liberated and the world would be transformed.

Christa’s main theory that she uses in the analysis is the historical materialism which is commonly known as Marxism. According to the Marxist theory power and private ownership of resources that are vital for economic development should be done away with as it cause a concentration of power among the few elite or capitalists. The theory’s main idea is that people can develop and achieve the highest potential if the social circumstances and privileges are the same and equal, and that social factors are the cause of the repression of human being’s creative capabilities. According to Christa the government and the general public was repressing women’s creativity and ability to develop by restricting their participation in decision making and participation in competitive professions.. Instead of that women like Rita were being oppressed and being exploited through the repressive laws and unjust ideals (Wolf 2013).

Author’s Comments

As mentioned above Wolf’s protagonist is a woman, this seems to a representative of her autobiographical work. Historically, Christa Wolf played a major role in the GDR feminist movement. In most her books, the protagonists were women and in all her stories she tried to point out that feminism not just a call for economic equality but more. In some of her statements she claims that women were better historical scholars and also that they portray a different type of epistemology, different set of values, and different memory.

Purpose of the Book

As mentioned above Christa was a member of the GDR feminist movement. During this time, communism was still active in most areas in the country. Christa was strongly opposed to the fact that women were being exploited instead being helped to developed and being actively helped into economic growth. Christa through her activist nature saw away to address the issue by writing an indebt expose’ on what women were going through and the reason for the lack of inclusion in the country. It was during the period of the book’s release that the world was beginning to think twice about the feminism that was happening within the country and around the world. She needed to look for a passive but effective channel of advocating against women oppression and the continuation of her activism. The world was clearly ignoring what was happening in the country and why women were stranded and segregated and left for subordinate roles even with the presence of education that is regarded as vital for economic development. The main purpose of the book was to open up the women plight to the world; so that the world would understand what was happening.

The two main ideas in the book are oppression and development or in this case feminism. Christa decided to choose the effects of oppression by shifting the focus to development. In the first chapter Christa makes an indebt look into Rita’s struggles. This is where the relationship to Karl Max’s theory on development is achieved and why it was not achieved the women of the time. In the second chapter he moves to expose the actual state of the country at the time as she relates Rita’s flashback to what was happening. In the following chapter, she writes a comprehensive text about how Rita was relating with her husband and how she was adapting into adulthood. This is where Rita begins to depict the root of her depression and suicide attempts.


Many including the men and the reserved German community have applauded the story for managing to become a universal story and not just a communist story. Most people believe that the story did not depict just the hard lives of the women but the general way of live in that period of time. Christa believed in equality and feminism, she believes that sharing in Rita’s oppression is universal. She however pointed out that using a woman’s characters was important for the story. She states that before an idea becomes universal it first has to become specific.

Many have referred to Christa as a visionary. Those who share this view claim that at the time Christa wrote the story the world had not tackled the issue of feminism and the injustice being witnessed around the world. By that time, the world had not addressed the issue and was afraid how to but Christa found the best channel to do so. Given the chance she did not cause any conflict or negative controversy. The only controversy she stirred was of how interesting the story was. Her approach was mild and people enjoyed the play instead of being conflicted. She also addresses other issues such as employment, the relationship between corporations and workers, and the issue about government policies.

Christa’s work has not received only acclaims. Some critics think that the story was too radical especially to the conservatives. This was foreseen since at the time the book was released, the society had not undergone the changes the society today has undergone. Some even ridicule the story stating that it was just a drama about feminism and anti-communism. The world at the time did not understand the struggles that women were facing in the hands of an unjust society. Just decades ago minorities such as blacks were being paraded as slaves but in the 1950s they were liberated and trying to find a position in the society and that is why Christa saw a possible change in the society.

The family concept used in the story narrows down the focus to a relatable level. Everyone living in that society had families and could easily relate. If the story had used a more radical concept like depicting activities that were present and popular among the communist people then the story could have elicited way different views and may have not even managed to get a chance to be received as it was meant to.


The society today has gone through numerous changes. Compared to the past, the human rights and equality has taken a very different perspective. Various factors in the society have been attributed to these changes. For instance, the education systems have improved significantly. The society we live in today is very competitive. Education has leveled the field for both men and women. People have therefore had to come up with ways of earning the best position in the society. The society is mainly comprised of three types of social classes; the upper class, middle class, and lower class. Most people strive to attain the upper class or at least the middle class. The people in the upper class enjoy the best resources human kind has to offer but the lower class tend to live a life dictated by the middle and upper classes. Because of this reason human beings have worked out ways of how to achieve the best social classes. In today’s society education is considered the key to this kind of opportunity. People therefore go to school to earn skills to become competitive members of the society. Unlike Rita’s time women are given equal opportunities as their credentials determine the position they will hold in the society. Christa and other feminist in the past can therefore be given due courtesy as they actively helped in the struggle for feminism.


Wolf, C., 2013. They Divided the Sky: A Novel by Christa Wolf. University of Ottawa Press.

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