Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Stefanie Ohnesorg

Committee Members

Maria Stehle, Daniel H. Magilow, Elizabeth H. Sutherland


One of the main goals of the East German government was the education of its population towards Socialism, and the creation of the new type of human – the Neue Mensch. The belief in the possibility of molding the next generation was particularly strong in the first decades of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), – in the 1950s and the 1960s. At the same time, the leaders of the regime presented the new Socialist state as the rightful heir to the German cultural and historical traditions. Both claims were aimed at strengthening the legitimacy of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei (SED – Socialist Unity Party). The SED wanted to influence every aspect of life, including gender. The proclaimed gender equality in the GDR entailed the inclusion of women in the Socialist ideal; however, the association in the public sphere with traits commonly attributed to men resulted in the use of masculine ideals as positive models for identification.

The East German government celebrated certain “heroes” as models for successful Socialist engagement. These heroes present what I call “ideological masculinities”. In my analyses, I concentrate on how literature for children and young adults describes two of these models for its young readers: the Socialist soldier and the Socialist worker. I offer a theoretical model with which to read these representations and contextualize them within the social and political institutions of the GDR. Based on examples from a selection of canonic texts, I analyze the traits that authors depict as characteristics of the Neue Mensch and investigate their gender association.

In the texts I examine, the combination of the goal of creating a new, better society based on the primacy of the working class, with the claim of being the rightful heir to the German, bourgeois traditions leads to a set of contradictions as to the expectations for the young generation. In addition, I show that even though education was aimed at the entire population (men and women) with the goal of creating gender equality, in East German literature for young adults of the 1950s and 1960s, traditional gender roles seems to take upper hand.

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