A funny thing happened as I was reading through this week’s portion. There were times when I actually found myself quite absorbed in it. Maybe the myriad of images were beginning to coalesce and the point of the scriptural references to clarify, but the scrapbook I’d been sifting through began to look more and feel more like a kaleidoscope. I think the lens is still cracked, but nevertheless the patterns started to make sense!

Caroline has supplied the questions this week, so let’s see how I get on.

*** Answers may contain spoilers ***

The German original calls the chapters “Books” not chapters. In my opinion this is a gross error and robs the English reader of seeing some intertextual links. How do you feel about this?

The only links that I feel go awol because of this are links to (the books of) the Bible. But given that these are spelt out extensively through out the text, I wouldn’t argue that it makes much difference.

Were you surprised to find out what happened to Franz after Reinhold pushed him out of the car? Do you find that Döblin is unnecessarily cruel to his creation?

Well, I knew that Franz couldn’t die, but no-one is going to survive being pushed out of a car at speed without serious injury, especially when hit by a passing car. He was lucky to survive that, lucky to have lost just an arm!

It is a cruel blow, but as the narrator says at the beginning of chapter/book 6. “No cause for despair”. Somewhat ironically before revealing his purpose. “I have the odd surprise up my sleeve, perhaps some readers can already sense something. A slow revelation is in progress, you will see Franz undergo it, and finally everything will be made clear.”

Yes, I began to sense the author’s purpose in this section, and as I began to see Berlin Alexanderplatz as a Bildungsroman. Franz has a lesson to learn, but given that he is particularly stupid and pig-headed, it’s going to take some drumming into him.

What’s the lesson? Franz is an individualist, convinced of his own self-sufficiency. Nor has he any sense of guilt over his past misdeeds. If he is to become decent, he needs to change his attitude on both those issues. Losing an arm should teach him something about his need for others.

Do the references to Job start in this section? I think so and that was the clue I needed. Job’s sin was the sin of self-righteousnes, self-sufficiency. When you think about the trials Job endured before he learnt his lesson, then you realise that Franz has a long way to go …. and Döblin’s cruelties to his character will only increase.

What does Berlin Alexanderplatz tell us about Döblin’s “Menschenbild” – his philosophical conception of human beings?

cf Answer to previous question. I think Döblin is telling us that man cannot survive by himself, that we are dependent on the world and other humans that surround us.

Do you have a favourite character so far? 

I’ve finished the novel and there’s not a single character I like. Not even Eva or Mieze, even if I admire their kindness. I’m baffled by their devotion to Franz. By their prostituting themselves to line the pockets of their men. But most of all, by Mieze’s willingness to let Eva have Franz’s child.

In these chapters, we see Franz attending political meetings. What did you think about these sections and his friend’s reactions?

You know, this has completely passed me by!

I do remember Franz selling Nazi newspapers quite early on, and saying that he felt attracted to the National Socialists because they were promising to reestablish order, and that was something that he was missing now that he was no longer incarcerated. But I think he left those feelings behind pretty quickly.

Most novels can be read without the reader knowing anything about the author’s life. What about this case? Were you compelled to read up on the author?

I try to separate authors from their works, because if a novel can’t stand without its author biography supportng it, then it is not a success. So, while I’ve needed to read some literary criticism to make sense of Berlin Alexanderplatz, I haven’t read up on Döblin himself.