Final installment on a novel that has taken a lot of effort to read, but I made it to the end! Did it grow on me? Let’s see ….
Thanks to Caroline for the questions.
Reinhold is possibly the biggest villain in the story. Would you agree? Do you find his punishment satisfying?
He’s definitely the most heinous human of the piece. And justice was served in the end. So yes, he got his just desserts.
However, isn’t there a bigger villain? The city of Berlin itself, epitomised by the whore of Babylon, a biblical character from Revelation associated with sin and oppression. She appears whenever disaster is impending (prior to Bieberkopf’s accident) and dances a gleeful dance whenever he is lured into the darker side of city life. It’s almost as if her role is bring her inhabitants to destruction … Notably she disappears after Franz’s final conversion at the end.
The quote that returns most frequently in the last chapters – at least as far I could see – is taken from Ecclesiastes (There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . ) How did you feel about this use? Did you find it effective?
This is just one of many refrains used throughout the novel, which converge, particularly in the pages leading up to Mitzi’s violent end. There is a time for everything, even for death, as the reaper himself advances ever closer to Mitzi. References back to the infamous slaughterhouse scene are made too. Mitzi is the ultimate lamb being led to the slaughter.
As for the specific quote from Ecclesiastes, it would appear that there is a time for conversion too, which leads me to the next question ….
Were you surprised by the ending?
Thinking back on it everything about this novel has surprised me! Not necessarily plot-wise but in its artfulness. Berlin Alexanderplatz is not as chaotic as it first appears.
Plot-wise there should be no surprises. the narrator tells us what happens to Bieberkopf on the summary on the first page. But the details are somewhat unexpected and dissatisfying, And then when I think about them maybe they shouldn’t be. For example:
Why does Bieberkopf not turn Reinhold in? It’s a repetition of a pattern. He doesn’t snitch on Reinhold after he is thrown out of the car. He doesn’t snitch on him now. Is he perhaps turning the other cheek? That would depend on whether you see Berlin Alexanderplatz as a Bildungsroman leading to rebirth and a Christian conversion.
Or is his conversion simply from individualist to member of society. The narrator’s final words on him are: “Bieberkopf is a little worker.”
Either way, in a mirror of the beginning, Bieberkopf leaves a closed institution (albeit mental asylum as opposed to prison) to once more find his own feet in the city of Berlin, But now the city has stabilised. It isn’t terrorising him. Perhaps this time he will become decent after all.
Looking back, what did you like the most about the book and what did you like the least?
I was prepared for a challenge but not for so much hard work; there was no way I could read Berlin Alexanderplatz quickly or understand without recourse to literary criticism. But that is precisely what I enjoyed the most, because it opened up the novel for me.
Three articles in particular:
David Dollenmayer: Berlin Alexanderplatz in The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin
Kathleen Komar: Technique and Structure in Berlin Alexanderplatz
Osman Durrani: Berlin Alexanderplatz in Fictions of Germany (ISBN 074860492X)
Would you reread it and/ or are you glad you read Berlin Alexanderplatz?
The sense of achievement at having completed and understood some of the author’s intention is great. As Thomas Mann said: “Very few people are able to read Döblin’s books right through to the end.” Well, I now have Berlin Alexanderplatz under my belt, and that means I have now read 33 of Deutsche Welle’s 100 German Must-Reads.
Would I re-read? Now there’s a question! At the half-way point, there was no way I would have finished it, had it not been for the readalong. Three-quarters of the way through, I was saying once would suffice. Now I’ve finished it, I recognise that this is a masterpiece that can only improve with a or even multiple re-reads. But will I ever? I don’t know, but I am not adverse to the idea, and I am keeping my copy for future reference.