The Estrangement Effect in Three Holocaust Narratives: Defamiliarising Victims, Perpetrators and the Fairy-Tale Genre

  • María Jesús Martínez-Alfaro Universidad de Zaragoza


Holocaust literature has often been described as producing disruption and estrangement. As the Holocaust challenges traditional forms of expression, writers have used alternative techniques, sometimes blurring genres and registers. This is the case with Holocaust narratives that rewrite fairy tales or use fairy-tale motifs and structures: they produce an estrangement effect in that their intertexts are defamiliarised as a strategy for opening up the possibilities of representation. This article focuses on three works of this kind, by authors Lisa Goldstein, Louise Murphy and Rachel Seiffert. Specifically, it considers how they constitute an alternative to the sanctioned metanarrative of the Holocaust, which is victim centred and facilitates the reader’s empathy. Indeed, the works discussed here complicate the categories of victim and perpetrator, thus problematising our engagement with the characters in a way that furthers the abovementioned estrangement effect. Attention is paid to the role played by secrecy in each narrative, as I contend that it is the secret and its effects in the diegesis that keep the characters at a distance, “estranged” from the reader. This distance precludes easy identification and invites critical discussion on the limitations of familiar categories and binaries, such as the victim/victimiser opposition and the public/secret dichotomy.

Author Biography

María Jesús Martínez-Alfaro, Universidad de Zaragoza
María Jesús Martínez-Alfaro is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and German Philology at the University of Zaragoza (Spain), where she teaches English literature and is member of a research team working on ethics, trauma, memory and transmodernity. Her publications deal with the above-mentioned fields, with a special focus on Holocaust literature.


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