The Emigrants

A Discussion on W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants

In the book The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald, the lexical words of the author are in perfect harmony with the visual pictures he presents to the reader; the illustrations are often matched concretely with the words, and they both simultaneously capture and escape the stillness of the past. Sebald uses the black-and-white images to illustrate the times and circumstances surrounding the main characters in his stories, emphasizing that these events really did happen and these people did actually exist. He presents the past with concrete proof and a mournful feel for the deaths of these people.

The lexical and the visual are in excellent harmony within Sebald’s narrative. For example, on page 14 there is a picture of the vast and magnificent Aare Glacier, and although it pertains directly to what Sebald is saying about the disappearance of Johannes Naegeli, it also seems to foretell much more. It engulfs the entirety of the surrounding landscape, with the mountains in the background dwarfed by the enormous glacier, and this feature in itself is a foreboding sign of imminent death for both Naegeli and the main character in the story, Dr. Henry Selwyn. The dark ominous glacier is a metaphor for two future events in the story, the suicide...

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