In Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi, the protagonist, Trudi Montag, takes the form of a dwarf, or zwerg. Trudi’s dwarfism makes her an outsider and she is ridiculed by the people in her community as they view her as less than human and look down on her. Their treatment of her contributes to her insecurities and forces her to have a negative view of life. Trud is portrayed by others as weak due to her small stature; however, she proves to be very strong as she overcomes her hardships and grows inner strength. The more Trudi is rejected by the townspeople because of her difference, the harder she tries to fit in. She even attempts to stretch her body by hanging from a door. As much as she tries to rid herself of her short stature, she is not able to and eventually must learn to accept herself the way she is. Trudi finds that the pay library is a great place to uncover people’s stories and she becomes a stealer of secrets. She uses their secrets and stories to make her own difference seem less important and to gain a sense of acceptance from others. Although they still do not accept her, it makes her feel more a part of their lives as she is able to uncover all of their secrets.
Trudi meets people who help her learn to accept herself including Max, Pia, and Hannah rather than judge her for her condition. As Trudi learns to accept herself and overcome the others’ rejection, she is able to grow and become a stronger woman. Her inner strength shows that although she is small on the outside her mind and her heart are bigger than anyone else’s in Burgdorf. When Trudi is rejected, she develops an urge to fit in with others and to be accepted and when she is finally accepted for her true self, her desire for human contact succeeds and she is able to find peace within herself.Trudi is isolated from society as she is judged by everyone for her appearance and longs to find someone experiencing the same pain and frustration as her. Trudi is forced to believe that she is all alone until she meets Pia at a carnival in Burgdorf. Pia and Trudi share the same trait of dwarfism but, unlike Trudi who hides her difference in shame, Pia embraces it by showing courage and confidence. She wonders how Pia manages to be admired by so many people yet, Trudi is made fun of and excluded by others. They both share the same condition yet they are treated very differently. Pia’s positive spirit intrigues Trudi and she opens her mind to the hope of one day being able to feel confident and adored by others. “When I get that feeling of being the only one, I imagine hundreds of people like me…all over the world, all feeling isolated, and then I feel linked to them.” (Hegi 134) Pia teaches Trudi about other zwerge people in the world and Trudi is pleased to discover that she is not alone in her condition. Trudi begins to feel like less of an outsider and more of an insider in the zwerge population. She is an insider among a group of outsiders. When Trudi learns the secrets of the townspeople, she realizes that almost everyone is an outsider as they are all different. This helps Trudi learn to be more accepting of herself and further develop.
After Trudi’s encounter with Pia, she begins to transform herself by embracing her difference as opposed to hiding it and trying to change it. She designs and sews her own clothing that expresses her individual personality and fits her shape. “The people of Burgdorf commented to him that-almost overnight- his daughter had changed from a child into a young woman. It amazed Trudi how many of them would bend and bring their faces to the same level with hers if she remembered to keep her voice soft and avoided looking at them while she spoke.” (Hegi 139) This sudden transformation represents the maturing of Trudi. Although her body does not grow any longer, her mind is always maturing and shows that, although she appears to be inferior on the outside, she is mentally superior to others. “They didn’t have any idea what she was like: they saw her body, used her size to warn their children, looked at her with disgust. But it was just that disgust of theirs which fused her to them with an odd sense of belonging.” (Hegi 159) The people in Burgdorf truly look down on Trudi. Because Trudi’s size is ridiculed and looked at with disgust, the townspeople assume that no one could ever love her. They think to themselves, “How could anyone love a zwerge?” Trudi’s condition deems her as undeserving of love. Because of this Trudi assumes that she will never get married or have children because no man could possibly find her the slightest bit attractive. Trudi goes out dancing with Klaus and Ingrid and discovers that she has feelings for Klaus. Excitement sparks inside of her when he asks her to dance with him. After the two of them share a kiss she becomes emotionally attached to him. Because she has never experienced a kiss before, she makes a big deal out of it and assumes that he wants to marry her. However, Klaus originally had his eye on Ingrid which makes the reader suspicious that he is only flirting with Trudi in the hopes of making Ingrid jealous. It becomes aware that Klaus is embarrassed to be with Trudi as he fails to acknowledge their kiss.
When Trudi first meets Max, she is surprised to discover that he is very interested in getting to know her. She worries that he is only curious about her body but he makes it clear to her that the only thing he is curious about is what’s inside of her. He recognizes her beauty and doesn’t choose to focus on her imperfections. “What I see is a spirited young woman…He crouched, bringing his face to the same level with hers. “It bothers you, not me.” (Hegi. 317) He also points out how Trudi uses her body type as a defense to keep people away. She turns him down when he asks to take her out again because she fears letting men into her life because of men like Klaus, George, and Hans. However, she opens her heart and is able to let him in: he opens the possibility of love for herself. Romantic love is a mature emotion and as Trudi recognizes its power, she begins to mature. Although Trudi had always expected that no man could ever love her, she had secretly longed for someone to be able to see past her difference and acknowledge the beauty within her. Klaus and Jutta, along with the rest of the town, try to shelter their daughter from reality by concocting stories.
As Trudi spends time with Hanna, she embraces the past and shares her stories with her. Klaus becomes infuriated with Trudi for telling Hanna inappropriate stories. “Hanna is too young for stories like that.” (Hegi. 510) Trudi becomes involved with Hanna because of her desire to be loved by someone. Because Hanna is so young and innocent, Trudi takes advantage of the fact that she is easily persuaded. She is too young to understand why others reject Trudi and loves her despite her difference. Hegi is able to finally give Trudi a rest at the end, when she adopts baby Hanna. “It was futile to expect any worthwhile rumors … if she had Hanna with her.” Throughout the novel many events contribute to her desire for human contact including her mother’s insanity which leads to her death, her deformity which causes others to exclude her, and her “molestation” by four boys in a barn. However, the baby becomes human contact for her. The only human that can develop love for her despite her appearance. Hanna is a stone saved from the river.