Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 12-15-2016


This thesis examines aesthetic representations of childhood and violence in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, I argue that Haneke’s film interrogates notions of the idealized child in the context of German history/the history of the Tätergeneration in order to question the possibility of affixing particular objective truth to historical or cultural narrative. First, I examine and deconstruct culturally accepted representations of the child as a symbol of innocence and purity, and explore how Haneke’s film manipulates and subverts these tropes. I then approach the film using three different theoretical structures: the gaze of the monstrous child in the horror genre, play theory as a tool for framing the children’s actions as moral exploration, and a close reading of the film’s use of violence and its relationship with the spectator. Ultimately, I contend that both childhood and notions of memory are inherently retroactive constructs. Haneke’s depiction of the cultural role of the child in pre-WWI Germany as well as the attempt to explain the history of 20th century Germany are instances of storytelling—an inherently subjective, multidirectional act that questions the stability of both discourses.


The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, childhood, memory, violence, play theory

Document Type




Degree Name

German Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Committee Member (Chair)

Susanne Baackmann

Second Committee Member

Katrin Schroeter

Third Committee Member

Jason Wilby