A work of dystopian fiction, The Wall
is widely viewed as the best novel of Austrian author Marlen Haushofer. It was originally published in German under the title Die Wand
in 1963. The first published English language version was translated by Shaun Whiteside and was released in 1990. The book tells the story of an unnamed woman in her forties whose name is never revealed. While on vacation at a hunting lodge in the mountains of Austria, the woman discovers that a transparent wall, in a situation that predates and seems similar to Stephen King’s Under the Dome
, is now separating her from the rest of the world. Beyond the wall she can see that all life has likely been obliterated, implying an event such as a nuclear holocaust has occurred. The woman faces survival alone and writes of her feelings during the time, not knowing if her words will ever been seen by anyone who might have survived on the other side of the wall. A dog, a cat, and a cow serve as the only living creatures around her that could be considered companions.
As the story opens, the anonymous narrator sets off for the Alps in Austria with her cousin and the cousin’s husband. Their plan is to spend the weekend at a hunting lodge there. In the evening, the couple goes to the valley to have dinner and does not return. In the morning, the narrator finds only her cousin’s dog, Luchs. She begins to look for the missing couple, discovering the wall, which seems to stretch endlessly from her vantage point to the far end of the valley. She takes out a pair of binoculars and begins scanning the region for an explanation of what has occurred and for signs of life. She only sees the form of a man, which appears to her to be frozen in its position. She begins to fear, at this point, that she has somehow survived a tragic event and is perhaps the only person to have done so. The wall becomes a double-edged sword. It protects her, while at the same time, it traps her. At first, the narrator is hopeful that help will arrive and rescue her from her predicament, but she slowly comes to realize that no assistance is forthcoming.
All of her attempts to get to the other side of the wall prove futile, and the narrator begins to accept, or at least adapt to, the situation in which she has found herself. The lodge, fortunately, is well stocked with provisions—almost as if the owner had been preparing for a potential disaster such as the narrator finds herself dealing with. The area around the lodge, but within the wall, is large enough to contain plants and wildlife, and she learns to subsist on the animals of the forest and fruits from a garden. She tends to Luchs, the dog, a cat, and an expectant cow, as well as learning to take care of her own needs. As winter approaches, she begins writing an account of her situation, which becomes the book she is narrating. Near the end of the novel, another person appears. Without any reason, he kills the dog, as well as a calf. She shoots and kills the man, an action, which like the wall, has a double meaning. True, it protects the narrator from whatever danger he poses, but at the same time, it eliminates what might have been her only chance to interact with another living person. At the end, the cow is pregnant again, and the narrator hopes that the cat, too, will reproduce. The narrator’s cache of ammunition and matches is dwindling making it unclear what her future might hold.
What Haushofer’s predominant theme in The Wall
might be is open to interpretation. There is an underlying Henry David Thoreau Walden-
esque back to basics component exemplifying how in the modern world, people take for granted their day-to-day survival, taking out of their hands and minds. Haushofer symbolically suggests that nature should and will win out over modernism. The narrator and her companions arrive at the hunting lodge in a big expensive car, which rather than being of any help to her later on, becomes engulfed by nature’s vegetation. There are psychological implications suggested as well. Being trapped by the wall and isolated by whatever occurred on the other side of it, forces the narrator to examine the priorities she had created in her life “outside” of the wall and think of how she might want to change herself. Her physical, psychological, and emotional struggles all foster her self-examination.