Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Anuradha Needham
Patrick Day


Language, Genocide, Kertesz, Fatelessness


This essay examines the function of language during a time of genocide as displayed in Imre Kertesz's novel Fatelessness, the story of a young Hungarian's experiences in Auschwitz. Language provides the tool for fate's imposition, here the imposition of an identity, a history, and a future upon an individual that does not necessarily cohere with the experience of the individual. Since language provides the mechanism for the unwinding of fate, a fate ultimately hostile to victims of genocide, the old language (the native language of the victim, whether it be French, Yiddish, Hungarian, etc.) becomes an inadequate vehicle of communication—but one with no alternative. Thus, with few ways to communicate, survivors have no choice but to succumb to using the old languages hostile to themselves. Declaring language utterly incapable or, conversely, completely without fault, represents a gross oversimplification of language's more subtle intersection with society. This essay contextualizes these ideas, focusing on the concept of the subsumed authentic narrative, with Fatelessness as an example of such a narrative, and the subsequent importance of authentic narratives in light of the fact that the Holocaust shapes the normative standard for genocide.