Christa Wolf's "Kassandra". The representation of patriarchy and power relations

Essay 2011 7 Pages

German Studies - Modern German Literature


Discuss the representation of patriarchy and power relations in Christa Wolf’s Kassandra.

Cassandra – a modern woman in ancient times. The East-German writer Christa Wolf publishes the story about the Trojan king’s daughter Cassandra, who is judged to be unseen although being blessed with the gift of prophecy in 1983. The story is told retrospectively by the dying Cassandra waiting in front of the “Löwentor”[1] for her execution in Agamemnon’s castle. Throughout the story, one can figure out a re-creation process of herself, or what is more, a development from a silent female object into a conscious subject.[2] Similarly to Christa Wolf, who tried to achieve a certain self-understanding as a woman author while writing the narrative (Kuhn, p. 186).

In addition, there are some suppositions that Wolf criticises in Cassandra the political structure of the former GDR. Even the characters represent political entities. Priam, in that sense, stands for the social state, Hecuba for the party and Eumelus for the State Security Service (Kuhn, p. 184).

Furthermore, it is a “feminist critique of literature and society” (Kuhn, p. 178) and describes a radical social change from matriarchy to patriarchy on the basis of the ancient myth of Cassandra. For this purpose, Wolf uses the male figures partly to correct the exclusion of women in the ancient models by Aeschylus and Homer. In these dramas women were depicted as dependent objects. In Christa Wolf’s famous Frankfurter Poetik-Vorlesung in 1982, she speaks about questions which might arise by the reader. More specifically, in A Letter, her fourth lecture on poetics, Wolf disapproves the constant exclusion of female writers in the history of literature and in society. Wolf declares in her essay that

an [essential characteristic of the origins of the Greek epic] [is the] amalgamation of patriarchy, property, and hierarchy, coupled with the simultaneous displacement, exclusion, and objectification of women (Kuhn, p. 186).

With her rewriting of the myth she tries to resolve the fact that “the experienced reality of women” of the Trojan War has been excluded (Kuhn, p. 188). In that sense, Cassandra’s exemplary subjectivity should encourage female resistance in a patriarchal world (Kuhn, 191). The story Cassandra shows the displacement of a matriarchal or at least a society with equal rights by a patriarchal system. Therefore, I am going to discuss how patriarchy is represented and how power relations are depicted in the following essay.

In the beginning, Cassandra describes the social order in her childhood memories. She informs the reader about the female dominated power relation when she remembers her mother, Queen Hecuba, sitting on a throne and her father on a stool next to her.[3] She calls him “Mann der idealen Königin” (Wolf, p. 16), which indicates a definite reduction in status.

The social system changes radically with the Trojan War. According to Robert Ranke-Graves Greek mythology mirrors the historical truth (Maisch, p. 8). Therefore, he assumes a matriarchal society in the Greek mythology

[und setzt] das Ende des Matriarchats […] mit dem Vordringen patriarchalisch organisierter, kriegerischer Völker im 2. Jahrtausend gleich, zu denen auch die Griechen zählen (Maisch, p. 73).

Christa Wolf supports his view, which is very noticeable in Cassandra. Following this research, one can interpret the whole social system in the narrative as symbolized by the two opposed nations: Greece and Troy. Hence, Greece represents patriarchy which displaces matriarchy depicted as Troy. Furthermore, “das [brennende] Meer” (Wolf, p. 20), which Cassandra dreamed of, can be read as the fight between matriarchy and patriarchy, the Trojan War. Panthoos, who came with the first ship to Troy, might represent the Greek intruders, and therefore, the seizure of power by the patriarchy. He is also the one who deflowers Cassandra, which might also give him a certain power over her, although she describes the sexual act as almost lovingly and not as a violent take over. Nevertheless, she imagines her beloved Aeneas every time when Panthoos approaches her.


[1] Wolf, Christa, Kassandra (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1993), p. 15.

[2] Kuhn, Anna Katharina Utopian Vision, (Cambridge: University Press, 1988), p. 190.

[3] Maisch, Christine , Zukunft (Würzburg: Verlag Königshausen und Neumann, 1986), p. 46.


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Title: Christa Wolf's "Kassandra". The representation of patriarchy and power relations