The Trope of Silence in the Work of Herta Müller

09 Aug 2017

With reference to Herta Müller’s fiction and non-fiction, my essay explores how the trope of silence is engaged to make sense of more abstract concepts. Drawing on conceptual metaphor theory, I argue that Müller uses silence as a means to personify phenomena and to realize the communicative potential of the environment. Such personification necessitates that language and meaning become inherent in the nature of things. Müller humanizes the world when she ascribes to its inanimate entities the ability to keep silent. Silence can also metonymically stand for the mental states of those keeping silent or for their complex social actions; it serves as a central reference point for trauma, fear, guilt, suffering, writing, and collaboration. In Müller’s works, metaphor and metonymy can interact and contribute to the understanding of silence. The author consistently highlights the figurative meaning of silence by estranging the trope linguistically and conceptually. Silence refers to the absence and failure of (but also implies the potential for) language and communication; and its use as a trope brings to the fore the search for meaning, expression, and social interaction.