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“Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood Report

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Updated: Jan 23rd, 2021

  • The book “Goodbye to Berlin” was written prior to the Nazi uprisings (between 1930 and 1933); how was the book an indictment of this period of Western history, that is, the impending war?

Isherwood was indeed aware of the looming Nazi war, as hinted through various components in the novel. In the third narrative, the author describes beach huts, which possess swastika flags. The Nazis had also penetrated German schools by teaching young children Nazi anthems. In later sections of the novel, a riot erupts; this event is responsible for the destruction of several Jewish properties. The death of one of the most prominent Jewish personalities –Bernard Landauer – is indicative of how the situation got so dreadful.

The last novella was the most illustrative of this impending war. At one point, a communist was blinded by the Nazis. The Nazis started to collect donations from people, and they arrested and punished them for some of the most juvenile deeds. All these actions are indicative of the state of disarray and chaos that was to intensity in the Nazi war (Isherwood 300).

  • The characters in the novel appear to be oblivious of the gathering storm and are somehow naïve about their world. Using instances from the novellas, discuss how the author successfully created such characters.

In the first novella, i.e., ‘A Berlin diary,’ the kind landlady –Fraulein Shroeder – seems to have her priorities mixed up. She does not object to anything, even when people deliberately wrong her. It does not make sense when she gets angry about a teapot, but never minds when her guests ruin her property or use it for immoral acts like prostitution. This state of affairs points to the naivety of the landlady. Furthermore, she never says anything about the Nazis and their strong anti-Semitic arguments. She simply dismisses this as something akin to a comedy; to her, it is not a serious threat to the existence of the people around her. Her contentment with these extreme views is disturbing to the reader because one can see signs of danger. Fraulein does or says nothing about it.

A hint of this state of ignorance and naiveté can also be seen when the narrator and Sally Bowles spot a grand parade. They are at a loss for words on what could have led to the major historical event. If they were aware of the impending danger, they should not have turned a blind eye to the National Socialist event. They preferred to bury themselves in their private lives rather than know and question such ill occurrences.

In the novella “On the Reuben Island,” the author mentions a Nazi doctor who befriends Peter. Peter strongly despises anti-Semitists, yet he and the doctor are still friends. Additionally, the doctor believes that Communists do not exist. Communism should have been so obvious to him, given that his close friend Peter held those ideals. The Doctor’s ability to shrug off these facts was indicative of the state of ignorance that the people in Berlin had prior to the war (Isherwood 105).

Many Jews had the opportunity of confronting the wrongs that were instated against them earlier on, but they chose to remain passive. For instance, Bernard (the head of the Landauers family) refused to take part in Leftist campaigns, yet this could have prevented the senseless killings that followed thereafter. The death threats that came to them through the mail were all dismissed. It is only after Bernard’s death that they realized how detrimental their pacifism was.

In the boxing match highlighted towards the end of the book, one can see how desperately the Germans clung to their illusions. They knew that the matches were fixed but still kept betting on them. It is almost as if their desperation caused them to believe anything.

  • The book serves as a social commentary on political and morally sensitive issues of the time. In what ways has the author of the book reflected the social values of the people in Berlin at the time when he resided in the city?

The novel touches on a number of politically charged topics at the time. For instance, it is a social commentary on abortion. One of the most vivacious characters in the story-Sally Bowles- got pregnant and needed to have an abortion. Isherwood and the kind landlady made an arrangement for her abortion, albeit illegally. This is indicative of the fact that abortions were not allowed, a fact that seems to contradict Nazi Germany. Here was a government that made it illegal to abort but did not provide the economic and social support needed to raise children properly.

The stories also comment on the issue of sexuality through the relationship between Otto and Peter. These two young men are not just concerned about their relationship but are affected by the forces prevalent in their society. It is a known fact that the Nazis were unsympathetic towards homosexuals. Consequently, gay couples needed to hide their affections. This obviously created tension between them, as seen through Otto and Peter’s interactions.

Otto was overly protective of Peter and sometimes treated him cruelly. When Peter was pushed to the wall and opted to leave, Otto missed him tremendously. The two had a love-hate relationship that was symptomatic of the imposing anti-gay sentiments held by society. One can also add that the lack of acceptance of homosexuals in Germany also caused a number of people to struggle with their sexual identity. Otto is involved with Peter, a man, but is later depicted as a womanizer. This was someone who was uncertain of his sexual persona.

Work Cited

Isherwood Christopher. Goodbye to Berlin. London: Hogarth Press 1939. Print.

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