Men without Mercy
By the time Döblin came to write his next Berlin novel, the urgency of the need to resolve Franz Biberkopf's dilemma at the end of Berlin Alexanderplatz had become only too evident. Events had overtaken Döblin. The marching masses had become unambiguous reality. Men without Mercy is the first novel that Döblin wrote entirely during his exile. At the end of February 1933, a month after Hitler's appointment as chancellor, Döblin fled Berlin for Switzerland, and later in the same year moved on to Paris. It was the beginning of a bitter exile that would last until 1945. The novel was written in Paris in 1934 and published by the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam in 1935.
Men without Mercy is formally Döblin's most conventional novel and in its content his most autobiographical. Its images and motifs hark back to Wadzek rather than to Berlin Alexanderplatz and it seems in many ways to be the diametrical opposite of the great novel of 1929. It totally eschews the narrative daring of Berlin Alexanderplatz in favor of a conventional, omniscient third-person narrator, a relatively economical plot, and a severely restricted cast of characters. Döblin later characterized the book as a "groping in the novel form" (Tasten in Romanform; AzL 392), expressly choosing the designation Roman he had so vehemently rejected during the teens and twenties in favor of Epos or episches Werk . It is unclear whether this phrase means that he was groping formally, or using the novel form to explore a murky theme.
In contrast to the geographical and temporal precision of Berlin Alexanderplatz, Men without Mercy is set in an unnamed modern metropolis at an unspecified time. The geography of the city and the events narrated, however, suggest Berlin during the 1870s—the booming Gründerjahre when many major German companies were founded—through the depression of the twenties and early thirties, with the First World War excluded. In the retrospective essay "Epilog" of 1948, Döblin calls the novel "a family history with a dash of auto-
biography" (AzL 392). The titles of the three books in which the novel is divided suggest the primacy of economic and social forces: Poverty, Boom, Crisis.
In its linking of psychological history and social and political circumstances, Men without Mercy has close ties to two of Döblin's earlier works: the 1927 autobiographical essay "First Glance Back" and the 1931 political tract Wissen und Verändern! (Know and Change!). Such clear links between fiction and nonfiction were rare in Döblin's earlier works. As we have seen, in his imaginative writing he relied heavily on subconscious inspiration and almost automatic composition, which led in many cases to sprawling and amorphous novels rescued by the intensity and power of their language. In Berlin Alexanderplatz the density of cross-reference within the montage and the straightforward, unidirectional plot make for a unity lacking in its predecessors.
Men without Mercy achieves a different kind of unity much more akin to that of the realistic novel Döblin had always scorned. One reason for this change in style is that unlike Döblin's other novels, Men without Mercy has a central theme straight out of bourgeois realism: marriage and the family: "It's a very real big-city novel, about marriage. I'm writing very simply (or so I believe), telling what I know" (Briefe 197). Since the "Open Letter to Marinetti," Döblin had explicitly spurned "eroticism" in the epic novel, yet as we have seen, the sexual problematic lies just below the surface of his works, and in a novel like Wadzek, it subverts Döblin's original intention. In Men without Mercy, the theme of marriage and the family is consciously at the center. While the grotesque caricature of a bourgeois family in Wadzek has no apparent dimension of social criticism, Döblin's realistic treatment of the theme in Men without Mercy has clear political and social implications. Indeed, the novel is realistic in order to be political.
Men without Mercy is Döblin's only roman à thèse, and the overriding didactic intention dictates the clarity and schematization that make the novel unusual. Why did he choose to write such a novel? It has been suggested that its relatively short length and tight composition betray the new influence of French literature on the exiled writer. Walter Muschg is surely right that the novel's naturalistic style also reflects a temporary loss of faith in the independence of the imagination. It is likely, moreover, that the exile Döblin wanted to produce a work that would reach as many readers as possible, although the nov-
els immediately preceding and following Men without Mercy—Babylonische Wanderung (Babylonian Journey) and the trilogy Amazonas, respectively—make no such concessions to the reading public. What is certain is that Döblin saw his previous existence as a politically engaged writer radically called into question by the triumph of the Nazis, a triumph all the more devastating because he had not anticipated it. In 1935, he declined an invitation to speak on the anniversary of the Nazi bookburning and wrote to Thomas Mann, "My books, at any rate, deserved to be burned" (Briefe 207). Men without Mercy is an indictment of both himself and German society for failing to realize the ideals of the aborted revolution of 1918 before it was too late—for failing, in effect, to resolve Biberkopf's dilemma.
Let us first see how the family theme is anticipated in the 1927 essay "First Glance Back." This was Döblin's first lengthy venture in an autobiographical mode, and it took the formal milestone of his fiftieth birthday to prod him into undertaking it. We have already noted Döblin's declared aversion to autobiography. In order to maintain ironic distance to himself, he composed this essay in the form of an imaginary examination of his person and psyche (including graphology and palm reading). In the beginning, it resembles a psychoanalytic session, but takes on more and more the character of a legal interrogation. In spite of—or rather, because of—this elaborate distancing structure, it becomes evident that Döblin has achieved no calm objectivity toward his own past. The pain caused by the two great injustices of his youth, his father's abandonment and the persecution he suffered in school, persists (totally suppressed, by the way, is Döblin's own repetition of his father's pattern in his relationship with Frieda Kunke, a fact that would certainly have had to emerge in genuine psychoanalysis).
Döblin at first tells the story of his father with jocular sarcasm; but at the insistent urging of an anonymous psychoanalytic interlocutor, he tells it twice more, moving from absolute condemnation ("He was a scoundrel, when all is said and done"; SLW 119) to understanding and conditional forgiveness: "They should have let him go as a young man or given him a shrewish wife or a very shrewd one: the curb or completely free rein" (SLW 125).
Having inherited his talent for writing from his father, Döblin possessed suppressed sympathy for him and equally suppressed resentment of his mother, who treated her son's writing with the same contempt as she had Max Döblin's artistic talents: "When I was already a doctor, I published a book and my mother asked, 'Why do you do that? You have a business, don't you?' She meant my medical practice." But with a characteristic guilty conscience, he adds, "Now that she's dead, by the way, I find that the woman was not so wrong. Actually, I should have given it up. . . . Writing seemed to her a frivolity, a waste of time, unworthy of a serious person" (SLW 123).
Döblin and his siblings suffered the difficult adjustment to their new family circumstances and to life in Berlin. His oldest brother, Ludwig, the most obvious model for Karl in Men without Mercy, went to work for his uncle when the shattered family moved to the capital in 1888: "On him fell the main burden that the absconded family founder had thrown off, and he bore it brilliantly" (SLW 127). But in 1929, a year after Döblin wrote this essay, Ludwig committed suicide; his business had suffered in the crash of 1929 and he had had an unhappy extramarital affair (SLW 352–53). Döblin's sister Meta was pressured into marriage by the petit-bourgeois proprieties of the family: "Although we possessed nothing, every effort was made to avoid placing her in a job. No idea was more foreign to the family than that a daughter would simply earn money like everyone else and stand on her own two feet" (SLW 129). After a divorce and a second, happier, marriage to a simple artisan, she was accidentally killed by a grenade fragment during the general strike and workers' uprising in the eastern quarter of Berlin in March 1919.
Döblin himself was an eyewitness to this strike and its bloody suppression (1,200 dead) by government troops under Gustav Noske, and wrote a brilliant reportage about it, "Kannibalisches" (Cannibalism), which appeared in Die Neue Rundschau in June 1919 (WV 10–25). The strike's goal was to rescue the workers' and soldiers' councils, which had been formed at the end of the war, from the attempts of the Social-Democratic government under Friedrich Ebert to dismantle them. Döblin's eyewitness report describes the government's use of air power, artillery, and then—after the strike was already crushed—its summary executions of civilians under martial law. He abandons his objective, reportorial stance to condemn this killing "arranged and legally carried out by the authorities, as if dictated by wisdom" (WV 22).
After a bitter attack on the intellectuals for allowing this to happen without protest, however, he makes it clear that his quarrel is basically with the means, but not the end of the government action: "A death or two is not what bothers me; we all must die. It is the infinitely disgusting senselessness of it I cannot stand. And you can't placate me with some proverb like 'You've got to break some eggs to make an omelette.' The law of the state must not be reestablished by means of an impudent violation of the natural right to justice" (WV 23). In spite of Döblin's theoretical sympathy for the antiauthoritarian organization of the workers' councils, a sympathy he was expressing at the same time he wrote this reportage, he seems unable to agree with their defense in practice. His inability to take the side of the strikers seems all the more strange in light of his sister's death, which was due precisely to the fury of Noske's attack. He does not even mention her death in "Cannibalism," because to do so would have ruined the carefully calculated effect of the reportage, which depends on an impartial first-person observer gradually realizing that the government really is resorting to aerial bombs and summary executions. His sister's death was a merely personal tragedy, a senseless accident.
"Cannibalism" was a warning to the infant German republic that a revolution that resorted to brutality in order to curb its radicals was in danger of losing its soul. By the time Döblin came to write "First Glance Back" nine years later, he had apparently lost all hope that the ideals of the revolution would ever be realized by the Weimar state. His attitude toward the March 1919 general strike had undergone a radical change; his isolation between the fronts had become exacerbated. To be sure, he still mentions the victims of the mass executions: "You had to have seen the corpses lying there in front of the school—the men with their caps covering their faces—to know the meaning of class hatred and the spirit of revenge" (SLW 128). But in the wake of the failed revolution, the senselessness of his sister's death gains symptomatic importance. He no longer blames the intellectuals for that failure, but the other workers of Berlin:
All was quiet while this was happening in Lichtenberg, and all the many tens of thousands of workers in Berlin remained still. It was then that I saw how necessary it was that this so-called revolution be suppressed. I am against incompetence. I hate incompetence. These people were incapable of action. You can't beat around the bush with tail-draggers, idiots, and big mouths. That's how it was then, and I'm on the side of whoever doesn't beat around the bush, whether he's on the Left or the
Right. . . . As foreign and hostile as the White troops seemed to me, I stepped back and concluded: this is good; they're better than those fellows over there. They're getting their just deserts. Either they know what revolution is and carry it out, or they deserve a beating for playing at it.
This is Döblin's most bitter condemnation of the failed German revolution, couched in language that comes close to sounding fascist in its diction. In the familial context of "First Glance Back," the vehemence of his scorn for the failed revolution is related to his scorn for his father. In both cases, bitter disappointment leads him to emotionally charged overstatement. He modifies his condemnation of his father in the course of "First Glance Back," and Helmut Kiesel has pointed out that even in November 1918, he never again sides with the reactionary "White" troops of Noske.
If Döblin is in the end ambiguous about the role of his father in his life, his judgment of the Gymnasium he attended is clear: the school was a repressive, authoritarian institution whose aim was to instill industriousness, obedience, and devotion to duty and the Prussian state. Döblin was an outsider from the first, because he was three years older than his classmates (having lost time in the move from Stettin to Berlin) and a Jew. Yet it was not his fellow pupils who persecuted him, but the teachers, and in "First Glance Back" he calls them back from the grave to account for their crimes. In the course of this "Ghost Sonata" (SLW 142), he recalls various humiliations, including the time when, at the age of nineteen, he was slapped in the face for talking: "And I—the fury is still inside me today—I didn't hit back. Such were the methods of objectivity" (Sachlichkeit; SLW 157).
The concept of Sachlichkeit is at the heart of the debate between the teachers and their former pupil. We have seen how Döblin used the word positively to describe the ideal of objectivity, the "style of stone" of the Berlin Program. Now Sachlichkeit undergoes a revaluation as an ideological category. It becomes the chief component of the Prussian mentality, an internalized oppression. The teachers claim it as one of the virtues taught at the school: "To be sachlich is to be Prussian" (SLW 149). Döblin, making use of the root of the word (Sache ), gives it the connotation of "reification," reducing a human being to a thing: "You wanted to make me, this 'I,' utterly into your object. Into an object. That was it. Into a vessel of your objectivity" (SLW 150). And Döblin declares that this supposed objectivity is not really objective at
all, but rather serves the purposes of the state: "You didn't want to hear the word 'I.' I don't give a damn for the 'I' either, but in your case, someone did say 'I.' It came from a single source: the state!" (SLW 150).
The common thread running through both the trauma of the family and the school is the struggle between authority and freedom. Döblin's attitude toward this struggle, like his attitude toward the revolution, is perforce ambiguous. He must condemn his father's flight to freedom as irresponsible and destructive. Yet he cannot wholly take his mother's side either, for there are clear parallels between the authority of propriety and convention she exercised over her family (clearest in the case of Döblin's sister), and the authority—exercised by the Gymnasium teachers—of the state over the individual. Döblin passionately rejects the latter: "I have not served [the state]. Not I! Even today I serve no state. No one can ever persuade me to" (SLW 150–151). One suspects that his rejection of state authority is the more vehement because such rejection was impossible in the case of his mother.
To see how and why Döblin combines such autobiographical elements with a political vision in Men without Mercy, we must look more closely at Döblin's political position in the final years of the Republic, already anticipated by his attack on the revolution in "First Glance Back." We have seen that the novelist himself was acutely aware of the dilemma in which he left Franz Biberkopf at the end of Berlin Alexanderplatz, the limbo between insight into a violent and coercive social order and concrete action to change that order. In the final years of the Weimar Republic, this was anything but a purely aesthetic question. Berlin Alexanderplatz was immediately attacked in the journal Linkskurve, the organ of the League of Proletarian Revolutionary Writers, whose reviewer Klaus Neukrantz discovered concealed in the novel "a reactionary and counterrevolutionary attack against the thesis of organized class struggle." About the central character, Neukrantz wrote that the "artificial, mystical, unenlightened Franz Biberkopf, the 'good person'" had been "intentionally isolated . . . from the proletariat's mission of class struggle." Although Döblin responded with a brilliant and stinging counterattack ("Katastrophe in einer Linkskurve"; SPG 247–53), the charges of the orthodox Marxists had a grain of truth to them. Of course, he had never intended Biberkopf to be a typical proletarian. He does not become a "humble working man" until the end of the novel, but even then there is no answer for him as straightforward as joining the "or-
ganized class struggle." As we have seen, he is at the end theoretically ready for some sort of solidarity, but still alone.
The question of proper action and of activist literature was much on Döblin's mind in the increasingly polarized and violent atmosphere of the early thirties in Germany. Certainly the language and style of Berlin Alexanderplatz represent among other things an attempt to speak to a wider audience than Döblin had in his previous novels, and its popularity attests to the partial success of the attempt. At the end of 1929, in a speech on the naturalist poet and playwright Arno Holz, Döblin demanded the "elimination of the monopoly on education" and "lowering the general level of literature" and urged his fellow writers to "turn towards the great mass of the people" (AzL 145). He also said that the naturalist movement, stifled early in the century by the dominant bourgeois culture, was now being continued" in the form of political theater and committed art" (AzL 144).
Döblin here aligns himself implicitly with Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator, his fellow members of the Gruppe 1925, an informal gathering of left-liberal and Communist writers that discussed politics and art between 1925 and 1928. In fact, at the time he gave his speech on Arno Holz, Döblin himself was already at work on "Die Ehe" (Marriage; DHF 172–261), a piece of "political theater" whose theme anticipates Men without Mercy . The idea for a play critical of the bourgeois institution of marriage originated in the Gruppe 1925, and Erich Kleinschmidt has suggested that the project was also a response to the criticism Berlin Alexanderplatz had received from the Left. Of course, Döblin's hatred of the institution of bourgeois marriage goes all the way back to "Modern." The play is a piece of agitprop theater heavily influenced by Brecht's techniques of alienation: it makes use of a "Speaker" who directs the action and addresses the audience, of texts and pictures projected on a screen, and of songs and recitatives used to comment upon and alienate the action. It consists of three unrelated "scenes" devoted, respectively, to a young proletarian wife who dies during an illegal abortion forced upon her by poverty and unemployment; the family of an unemployed gardener, unable to find housing and torn apart by an inhumane welfare system; and a cynical marriage of convenience among the haute bourgeoisie .
Although "Marriage" was banned as Communist propaganda two weeks after its premiere in Munich in November 1930, there is more Marxism in Döblin's first story "Modern" than in the entire play. Its
message is simply that money rules the world, and that the institutions of marriage and the family are callously undermined (among the proletariat) or cynically exploited (among the bourgeoisie) by capitalist society. The play is a curious mix of pathos in the first two scenes and heavy-handed satire in the third. In spite of all the techniques of Brechtian distancing and alienation, the Speaker unnecessarily belabors the villains of the piece (DHF 191) or falls into the pathos of righteous indignation (DHF 225), without in the end making clear what the point of the play is. The programmatic slogan "Know and Change!" is projected onto the screen at the beginning of the first scene (DHF 182), yet when the widower of the woman how dies having an abortion asks the pertinent question, "What should I do?", the Speaker's only answer is the doggerel "You've got to march along with the rest, my boy, nobody gets anything for free, first you've got to clench your fists, then slap the pavement with your shoes" (DHF 200), sung to the tune of a "saucy march." Klaus Müller-Salget has pointed out the superficial similarity to the march rhythms at the end of Berlin Alexanderplatz, but calls the verses in "Marriage" "nothing but a rhymed soap bubble." Whether or not "Marriage" succeeds as a piece of political theater, it is an indication of Döblin's increasing interest in activist art, in an art able to reach a broad audience and to have some effect upon society. It is also important that the theme he chose for his only political play was the seemingly private one of marriage. Especially the last scene suggests that the power struggle within marriage is for him a reflection of a similar struggle in society as a whole. The play's programmatic call to "Know and Change!" became the title of Döblin's next book, a tract in which he tried to define his own political position.
Begun as a response to an open letter to Döblin from the university student Gustav René Hocke, Know and Change! grew into Döblin's most extensive political statement. Both the book and the controversy it ignited are a testimony to the fragmentation of the German Left in the last years of the Weimar Republic. Hocke's question to Döblin was at once naive and straightforward, an intellectual's version of the husband's question from "Marriage": where is an intellectual to stand in the increasingly sharp conflict of parties and opinions? What can one, as an intellectual, do? Döblin's answer is a critique of Marxism and a call for true socialism, which he defines as "Freedom, spontaneous alliance among people, rejection of all compulsion, rebellion
against injustice and compulsion, humaneness, tolerance, dedication to peace" (WV 141). This, says Döblin, is the heart of the socialist idea, the ideal that must inform any concrete action. The Communists, he writes, make the mistake of reducing socialism to the doctrines of historical materialism and economic determinism. Döblin rejects the central Marxist concept of class struggle as the means to a socialist future, since it simply perpetuates militarism and violence: "From a thing comes nothing that wasn't already in it" (WV 141). Döblin defines the place of the bourgeois intellectual as "beside the workers," but not among them (WV 170). The intellectual must declare his solidarity with their goals, but insist on the values of true socialism not just in the ends, but also in the means.
Döblin's socialism is in essence an ethical ideal, uninformed by any sense of how it could or should be practically organized. But it is at any rate self-evident that the modern capitalist state does not meet the criteria of true socialism and must be done away with. Döblin has returned to a critique of industrial capitalism, thus coming full circle from his position in "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age." The 1924 essay, as we have seen, glorified "Man the collective being" and suggested that the present phase of the naturalistic impulse inevitably involves imperialism and the "gigantic wars" it produces. Döblin now inveighs "Against Collectivism, the Ideal of the Anthill and the Machine" (WV 173) and demands "elevation of the person, the individual" (WV 175). In the philosophical work Unser Dasein (Our Existence), written about the same time but not published until 1933, Döblin even retracts the image of the coral colony central to "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age": "Although there is no 'absolute' Person, we humans certainly do not exist on the level of the coral animals" (UD 421).
This new shift in position results from a new interpretation of history. Like "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age," the tract Know and Change! contains a historical overview. But whereas in the earlier essay, Döblin was interested in the international development of the scientific method and technology, he now outlines the course of German social and political history. He essentially follows the lines of the standard liberal analysis of the failure of the German bourgeoisie to reach political maturity. Martin Luther's revolution only went half way, because while securing freedom of thought and conscience for the individual—in theory, at any rate—it left him politically the subject of the
absolutist German princes. The individual was thus split, even more than during the Middle Ages, into a spiritual and a temporal half. According to Döblin, Luther began the intellectual flowering which ended in naturalism, that is, in a world no longer split between the here and the hereafter, but a unity in which spirit inhabits everything and man unfolds his being in the present moment. This is essentially the world view Döblin had already expounded in The I over Nature and would repeat and expand upon in Our Existence .
In Germany, however, the social liberation that should have accompanied this spiritual liberation was frustrated and blocked. After the suppression of the Revolution of 1848, the bourgeoisie made a pact with the feudal ruling class, the nobility and the military, to eschew political power in favor of economic and industrial power. In this situation, the torch of naturalism and its social and political correlative, socialism, passed to the working class. This is why in Döblin's logic the intellectual, who necessarily desires the realization of the socialist ideal, must ally himself with the workers. Throughout his analysis, he is uncomfortable with the terms "bourgeoisie" and "proletariat" because he regards them as ideological, Marxist categories: "'Proletariat' is a program; we don't accept it" (WV 190). He divides German society into the feudal ruling class and the exploited majority, the "citizenry" (Bürgerschaft ). Thus bourgeois and worker in Döblin's view actually belong to the same class, and it is the bourgeois who after 1848 betrays his class and the socialist ideal by cooperating with the oppressors. This analysis allows the bourgeois intellectual to ally himself with the workers and yet still remain within his class (WV 216–228).
Yet in spite of its declaration of solidarity with the working class (a declaration Döblin also makes in "First Glance Back"), Know and Change! in the end is caught in a dilemma which leftist critics of the work immediately pounced upon with glee, as Döblin himself noted: "It enticed them to the wildest dances of joy that a book should begin with the question of what we should do, and end with the sentence, 'And so you will soon know what is to be done'" (SPG 271). Since Döblin explicitly rejects class struggle and scorns political parties in general, it is indeed unclear what the intellectual is to do aside from advocating the ideals of socialism and declaring his sympathy for the workers. Leo Kreutzer writes that Döblin achieves the "pretense of a solution" by simply equating insight and action, "knowing" and
"changing." Biberkopf's position at the end of Berlin Alexanderplatz has still not been overcome.
What prevents Döblin from articulating concrete measures is his basic anarchism, consistent throughout his career but increasingly articulated in his later years. As early as 1924, the answer to the terrible, hypertrophic technocratic state in Mountains Seas and Giants were the small bands of "settlers." And the motto to Döblin's 1926 work Reise in Polen (Journey in Poland) is a rebellious quote from Schiller's Wilhelm Tell: "There is a limit to the tyrant's power," followed by Döblin's commentary: "Let all states—and the state in general—take note" (RP 5). In 1928, Döblin resigned from the German Social Democratic Party "out of protest against bureaucracy and bossism," and it is with an anarchist, not a Communist, that Franz Biberkopf conducts the only real, extensive political discussion in Berlin Alexanderplatz . It is not surprising, then, that Döblin ends Know and Change! with a call for a return to "the normal and natural grouping of people in small associations," for a "dismantling of the public sphere" and a "reordering of private life" (WV 263). Döblin's idea seems to be that the state will gradually disintegrate as the society reorganizes itself into small bands and interest groups: "It can only be a question of the powerful increase of real, i.e., small social groups and their 'private' life, which will then lead to a weakening of the state" (WV 266). The helplessness that speaks from this sentence is palpable, especially when one remembers that the Nazis had already become the second strongest party in the Reichstag by 1930.
The intellectual still ends up between the classes, where Döblin had always thought of himself as being—both as a writer and a doctor: "[Health Service doctors] get their ideas and their ethical categories from the class from which they come, the bourgeoisie, and as a rule, they keep to them their whole life long. . . . Economically, the Health Service doctor stands somewhere between a free professional, a government official, and an employee, but—without being any of the three, and his spiritual situation is just as indecisive" (SPG 244). Döblin, predisposed to isolation by his profession and temperament, experienced increasing political isolation in the divided Left of the late Weimar Republic, a condition that became almost absolute in his exile after 1933.
Döblin wrote Men without Mercy in 1934, in exile outside Paris, and his loneliness no doubt encouraged the inward turn of the novel toward self-reflection about his family and their fate. We have seen that later in his life, Döblin characterized Men without Mercy as a "family history with a dash of autobiography," and there can be no doubt that the family and its internal struggles lie at its center.
Karl, the central character, arrives in the city at the age of sixteen along with his mother and two younger siblings. Their father has squandered his wife's dowry on irresponsible business ventures and then died. The mother (who receives no other name throughout the novel) brings her children to Berlin, where she has a brother, a furniture manufacturer, who can help them. She is hounded by her husband's creditors, and uses for the first time the leitmotif of the novel's title to describe them: "They give no quarter—they'll have their pound of flesh" (P 18–19, MWM 19). In despair, she tries to commit suicide, but Karl saves her. From then on, he is in her psychological debt.
He is at first a naive country bumpkin, easily impressed by the imposing palaces and museums of the royal quarter on a hill overlooking the city. But in looking for work, he meets an older boy named Paul, a charismatic proletarian leader who opens Karl's eyes to the injustices perpetrated against the working classes. Paul draws the younger boy into his revolutionary activity, and repeats the leitmotif: "You'll come with me into battle, and I tell you straight, no quarter will be given" (P 85, MWM 99). The mother, on the other hand, wants to succeed within the system by becoming more ruthless than the oppressors. The struggle of the vampirelike mother with the revolutionary Paul for Karl's soul culminates in book 1, "Poverty." The mother prevents her son from fleeing with Paul, whom the police are seeking, by locking him in their apartment.
Book 2, "Boom," is the shortest of the novel but covers the most narrated time. It begins with the marriage of the thirty-year-old Karl, now a successful young business partner of his uncle, to Julie, a girl from an upper-class family. Karl's mother has won, and he has left his youthful idealism behind. In a flashback, we learn that his conformity to the capitalist ideal has been bought at the price of his spiritual death. His hatred for his mother has been suppressed and converted into self-loathing. In the business world he uses his power ruthlessly, while at home he is overprotective of his wife and rigidly ritualistic in their sexual relations. Only the fact that he insists on living in the old
proletarian neighborhood where he grew up intimates the hold that the supposedly buried past continues to have on him.
In book 3, "Crisis," both his public and private worlds begin to crumble. Julie rebels against the rigid constraints of their marriage and begins a love affair with the attaché of a foreign embassy. At the same time, an economic crash begins abroad and threatens to engulf Karl's country. Karl profits from the distress of the lower classes, and when they become restive, he begins to finance right-wing paramilitary formations. His wife leaves him for her lover, taking their two children with her. Karl swindles a business partner and becomes increasingly isolated from both the middle-class industrialists and the upper-class investors. He begins to lead a double life, patronizing prostitutes at night in shabby, working-class clothes while he continues his business during the day. Amid rising social unrest, the revolutionary Paul turns up again after years in exile. Karl's love for him comes flooding back, but Paul tells him it is now too late to switch sides.
In the armed struggle that now ensues, Karl is determined to fight on the side of the workers. Hoping to reach the revolutionaries by pretending to march with a civil defense squad, he is caught in the fire between the fronts and killed. The rebelling workers are overcome and the revolution is suppressed. Karl's mother returns to the provinces, while his passive younger brother Erich, a pharmacist, remains in the city.
The Manichean dualism in Döblin's image of women, embodied in the figures of Gaby and Pauline in Wadzek and Mieze and the Whore of Babylon in Berlin Alexanderplatz, recurs in Men without Mercy in the figures of the mother and Julie. In the course of the novel, the focus shifts from the relationship between mother and son in books 1 and 2 to that between husband and wife in book 3, where the mother disappears for long stretches of the narrative. In the first half of the novel, however, she dominates and determines the action.
The figure of the mother is one of the most powerful in the novel, a late and complex variation on the figure of Pauline Wadzek. Karl's mother is the ultimate battleground for Döblin's conflicting feelings about women because she is closest to the source of those feelings, his own mother. In Wadzek the style of stone, by limiting itself strictly to externals, made of Pauline a repellant monster. The realistic narrative
to which Döblin has reverted in Men without Mercy allows the emergence of a much more differentiated and subtly drawn character. The narrator of Men without Mercy, like the narrator in Berlin Alexanderplatz, moves freely from dialogue to unvoiced thoughts, from third to first person:
"I've no one else now, Karl. Sit down a moment, you're a big boy, you understand things now. I must unburden myself to someone; you saw all that went on at home, all that trouble with your father, and the auction (I wasn't able to say a word to him, either, but I can't stand it any longer, even if I have no one but the wall to talk to, I shall scream it out). Someone will have to help me, I can't go on like this." (She glanced at her clenched fist, he has left me in the lurch, he used me, he never considered me, never, never, and now he's landed me in this mess as well).
(P 19, MWM 19–20)
The narrator is at pains to present the mother fairly, showing the reasons for her bitterness and calculating ambition. He sketches the history of her family of provincial artisans and petty officials, something Döblin has previously done only for the positive female figures Gaby and Mieze. The mother's marriage was a love match, an attempt to "shake off the lethargy of her dying class. It had been her longing for warmth, candour, love, for frank speech and laughter, that had drawn her towards her husband" (P 156, MWM 187). Her misfortune is to have chosen the wrong man, and the disaster of her marriage has deformed her longing for love into guilt and a need for security. The father's exploitation and oppression of the mother is paradigmatic for all familial relationships in the novel: "The Family Grinds You Down" (Die Familie mahlt Menschen ), as one of the chapter titles has it. The images used to describe the family are primarily of battle. The father was the "common enemy" (P 15, MWM 14) of Karl and his mother; mother and son in their turn are locked for years in "a wearing war of position" (P 125, MWM 148). The mother's victory over Karl, her crushing of his spirit and idealism, is thus not an isolated event, but repeats and perpetuates her husband's crushing of her own need for love. Karl will carry the same oppression into his relationship with Julie. Döblin uses Karl's family history to suggest that middle-class families are by nature oppressive and love-denying.
When one looks at families from other classes in the novel, a shift of focus is evident. In describing Julie's upper-class family, Döblin is consistently satiric. The focus shifts again when the working class is under observation. When Karl and Paul come upon a working-class tragedy
in which an angry mother kicks her daughter and accidentally kills her, Paul makes Karl understand that the origins of lower-class callousness and brutality lie in oppression and exploitation (P 58–61, MWM 67–70). This difference in treatment is an echo of the contrast in "Modern" between sarcasm concerning the "ladies' question" and pathos toward the "women's question." It is also present in the difference between the first two acts of the agitprop drama "Marriage," dealing with the working class, and the satire of an industrialist's family in the third act. Throughout his career, Döblin savagely satirizes the upper-class family while treating the working-class family with sympathetic naturalism and often with pathos, as a product of the repressions and dislocations of industrial capitalism.
Karl's little family—neither proletarian nor upper class—are presented as timelessly archetypical. The mother is mythologized into "a kind of modern Hecuba" (P 131, MWM 157), just as Karl toward the end of the novel is raised to the level of mythic hero by the old school principal whom Julie consults: "Karl is a fighter, a brave man who has forced his way up to his present position. And now the demons whom the gods send to plague mankind are assailing him. . . . He's not made of the stuff of the weaklings of today" (P 330–31, MWM 398). In Berlin Alexanderplatz, Döblin uses mythological parallels in montage to lend resonance and depth to the story of his Everyman Franz Biberkopf. In Men without Mercy, the central characters themselves—especially the mother, Karl and Paul—have an archetypal aspect that is heightened by the schematization of their names and of the setting.
When Julie enters this constellation by marrying Karl, she is gradually transformed from the "spoiled only daughter of a prominent architect" (P 148, MWM 178)—still an object of satire in the wedding scene that opens book 2—into an increasingly complex and sympathetic character. Early in their marriage Karl systematically molds and defines her as the perfect wife, and the narrator makes it plain that he is repeating what his mother has done to him. But after ten years of marriage, Julie begins to grow restive under the yoke of this all-too-perfect union. When Karl praises their home as a "fortress" in which they can take shelter from the storms of society, she realizes, "I must be the prisoner, Herr Commandant" (P 197, MWM 234). This conversation is the beginning of her realization that she has been cheated of love and fulfillment by this marriage, and it is not long before she begins her affair with the attaché José. For Julie the affair begins as
a desperate escape from the emotional straitjacket of her marriage, for José as an amusing erotic diversion, but they gradually realize that they have fallen in love. Julie abducts the two children from Karl's apartment and they eventually settle in a suburban cottage, an idyll where they revel "in the joys of living together for the first time amid the beauties of early summer" (P 303, MWM 365). In a parenthetical aside in the last paragraph of the novel, we learn that "Julie and the children left the country shortly afterwards and broke away from [the family's] destiny" (P 370, MWM 446). This "happy end" for Julie and the children suggests the possibility of attaining real happiness in marriage, of escaping the family that "grinds you down," of breaking the chain of inherited oppression.
But Julie's escape from Karl's "destiny" is only a subplot, almost an afterthought. Its significance is to some extent reduced by the cliché nature of her love affair, and even more by Julie's reaction to Karl when they meet to discuss the divorce. He has begun his double life, living in a cheap hotel and patronizing streetwalkers, and he tells her about it. The prostitutes signify for Karl both libidinal liberation and a chance to punish Julie: "You had the woman, whatever her name was, in your arms, you triumphed, she hadn't gone away, you embraced her and flung yourself on her. She had at once to suffer and to give love and punishment, humiliation and degradation" (P 307, MWM 370). Suddenly Julie is attracted to Karl precisely because of his new life. Just as the prostitutes symbolize her for Karl, she now offers to become one of them:
"Shall I come to you, Karl?" What was she saying? "Would you like to, Julie? Where? To my room in the suburbs?" "I'll think it over. I must have a word with you tomorrow or the day after, d'you hear?" "I shall be here." As they got up, she gave him her hand. Suddenly she had a desire to lay her head on his breast, but at the sight of his uncanny, fixed stare she retreated (what's he doing to me?).
(P 313–14, MWM 378)
Julie's offer fits the pattern of relationships we have already seen in Döblin's works, especially in Berlin Alexanderplatz . As soon as she sees Karl's inner torment, she is ready to sacrifice herself to him; but more than this, she is clearly attracted to the idea of playing the role of a prostitute. Similarly, the young intellectual with whom Karl briefly flirts thinks, "Who was this who was embracing her? And she was allowing such a thing to happen? He could kiss me as though I were a
silly little goose, or rape me as though I were a streetwalker" (P 246, MWM 293). Once the self-effacing, masochistic relationship has been established, Julie is of no more importance in the novel. She has not really liberated herself from Karl's oppression, only managed to escape it into a cliché of conventional happiness. Karl's "destiny" involves not her but Paul, the only person Karl has really loved.
Again we find a relationship with homoerotic overtones at the center of a Döblin novel. In the disguises he wears to hide from the police, the young revolutionary Paul favors female clothing. Dressed as a streetwalker, he meets Karl:
With a wheedling glance Paul offered him his arm, whispered: "If anyone comes, we'll pretend to be a loving couple." And just then two men came out of the house, smoking and talking loudly, walked unheeding past the pair, who were locked in a tender embrace. Karl had never yet held a woman in his arms. Now from close to he inhaled the fragrance of the dress, felt the soft stuff and embraced—Paul.
(P 99–100, MWM 116)
After Paul has left the city, the young Karl is "in a state of positively physical longing" for him (P 125, MWM 148), and when Paul returns after years away, this yearning returns and automatically displaces the "bestiality" of his double life among the streetwalkers of the proletarian districts (P 340, MWM 409).
In a more radical way than Julie in her relationship to José, Paul represents an alternative to the oppression of Karl's petit-bourgeois family. Paul is unencumbered by any family ties: "[The mother] was unable to discover anything about Paul's family; he told her that he had come here alone from a provincial town at the age of fourteen, there had been too many of them at home, he had soon managed to get on" (P 77, MWM 89). He scornfully calls Karl "You mother's darling" (P 58, MWM 67), and it is clear to both Paul and the mother that they are adversaries in the battle for Karl. They both use the leitmotif "no quarter given" to refer to the heartlessness of the social struggle, and they begin from the same premise: that society is controlled by a rich minority who exploit the poor majority. But whereas Paul is committed to changing the society, the mother has chosen for Karl the path of conformity to society's expectations and individual achievement. Rather than rebel, she will beat the exploiters at their own game. She
regards her poverty as a purely personal misfortune which she must overcome, just as the ex-convict Biberkopf vows to live a decent life and rely only on himself. When Karl tries to explain to his mother the lessons of social justice and solidarity he is learning from Paul, it is clear both how close and how far apart are the two adversaries for Karl's soul:
Had anyone, before the night she attempted suicide, when she had still been wandering about like a hunted animal, used such expressions, she would have vehemently agreed with him. To give vent to her despair she would herself have brought forward very much the same denunciations. She too would have gone forth with a torch against those others, those cruel, hard oppressors. Terribly true words, true yesterday, today, true for ever. How well Paul knew how to get at her Karl! But she would not let him get at him. What concern of this fellow Paul's was her poverty? It was her personal misfortune, she'd find a way out all right.
(P 87, MWM 102)
In the first book of the novel, Paul's analysis of society is the same as the mother's, although their conclusions about what should be done differ radically. In the third book, it becomes clear that the analysis and program of the mature revolutionary Paul, laid out during a conversation with the pampered intellectual Erich toward the end of the novel, is identical to Döblin's own analysis and program in Know and Change!
The old noble ruling class is still in power, deriving its legitimacy from empty tradition and outworn principles: "They live on falsehood, are utterly hollow, but there they are, in control, bathed in the glories of the past, heirs of the bygone ages, resting on the laurels and ideas of others" (P 336, MWM 404). The bourgeoisie (or the "earners"—die Verdiener —as Döblin calls them both here and in Know and Change! ) have the economic power but have sold out to the old ruling class, whom they emulate: "The men at the top have given these money-grubbers—the stupidest, most wretched crowd the earth has ever produced—have given these robbers, criminals and their toadies, the clerks, a free hand, and in return they are kept by them. And that (he raised his voice) is their inexpiable crime, a crime for which they'll one day have to pay dearly" (P 336–337, MWM 405).
The only hope for change lies in the working class, but it has been led astray by its political leaders. Paul scorns the proletarian parties who preach gradualism:
And what are these masses doing, who are supposed to be everything, they and their leaders and parties? Are they rising up in revolt because the selfishness, incapacity and wretchedness of the governing class cry out to heaven? No, they're carrying on their old quarrels, whining and protesting about unemployment, about low wages, while fundamentally they only want things to be as they were. The slave feels happy in his chains. And yet how much force and courage there is in some of them!
(P 338, MWM 406)
The legitimate and gradualist party in the novel corresponds to the German Social-Democratic Party. These are the men whom Karl meets when he begins his apprenticeship in his uncle's factory:
They were workers, a quiet, steady type of men such as the countryside produced and the workshops needed. They talked in the same way as Paul and Gustav, had the same views on a number of things, but they were docile. For, according to them, if the capitalist had nothing to do, they themselves would have no work, and moreover, without the capitalists the workers would be mere ciphers; still they must not put up with everything, they had to protect their interests against wage cuts; had to have accident and health insurance, provision had to be made for the welfare of the women in the workshops and factories, and the insurance societies must be made to grant maternity benefit.
(P 126–27, MWM 151)
The economic crisis that begins in the third book causes a schism and the formation of a more radical, revolutionary proletarian party, corresponding to the German Communist Party: "Those who were well fed and were merely a little anxious stood by the old gang, those who were gnashing their teeth in despair joined the new faction. . . . They were no longer isolated individuals, directing their attacks against particular individuals in the camp of the enemy, but were a definite group, their ranks as closed as the ranks of their adversaries. Soon semimilitary formations grew up among them" (P 232, MWM 276).
In opposition to both of these organized parties, Paul's philosophy is clearly anarchist and favors spontaneous action. He issues proclamations "against the discipline of these . . . organizations" (P 351, MWM 423). Moreover, Döblin's polemics against the Marxist doctrine of class struggle in Know and Change! are echoed in Paul's handbills: "Who is it that has let things go so far that the fight for justice, reason and the dignity of man has been turned into a class war? Shame on the rulers and possessing classes of this country, who have laid the burden of this fight on the poor and the very poorest in the land!" Paul
attempts to appeal across class lines, and this distinguishes him from the radical workers' party: "An appeal was made to the enslaved bourgeois, the duped shopkeeper, to all who worked and laboured" (P 352, MWM 424). But while Döblin's solution in Know and Change! had been nonviolent, Paul issues a straightforward call to the oppressed to arm themselves and overthrow their exploiters (P 340, 352, MWM 408–409, 424). This is a significant change, and may reflect Döblin's realization, in hindsight, that only direct, armed action of some kind could have prevented the Nazi accession to power. Paul forms his followers into fighting battalions: "The only organisation that was worth anything on the other side, he said, was the Army, and hence the country needed this other army, for, he said with a laugh, one must always hear both sides of a question" (P 334, MWM 402). But the novel leaves his ultimate goal unclear: "he hoped here—not to win a victory, but to drive the enemy into a corner" (P 333, MWM 401).
In fact, the only concrete force in the novel that unifies the revolutionaries is the charismatic personality of Paul, "his old power of gathering people around him and impressing his will on them" (P 333, MWM 401), the same power and charm that had attracted the young Karl. This charisma suggests that Döblin still regards history as primarily created by great leaders like Wang-lun and Wallenstein, whom the masses need to give them direction. Perhaps because Paul has no historical model but originates in the abstract idea of an ideal revolutionary, he is a rather pale character, not without touches of kitsch: "What a deep, penetrating look came from those wide, hard, glittering blue eyes! Had he always had such bright eyes?" (P 324, MWM 390–91).
But there is a much more problematic aspect to him and his program. We have seen that Karl finally loses his soul to the capitalist system when he learns to enjoy "the atmosphere of power, of contempt for mankind" (P 144, MWM 173). In this novel, power is always the power of the exploiters, and always engenders contempt for the weak. Paul, the ideal revolutionary, must therefore be powerless by choice, must hope "not to win a victory." The uprising he directs from his secret headquarters is thus from the beginning certain to be crushed by the forces of the state. The figure of Paul, caught between the need for action and the rejection of the power necessary for success, is ultimately contradictory. It is no surprise that Döblin allows him to disappear from the novel even more thoroughly than Julie: we don't learn
what happens to him during the uprising. He too is ultimately only important as the embodiment of revolutionary ideals impinging on Karl's life.
Karl is himself a vehicle of political ideas. Walter Muschg calls him a "representative of the German bourgeoisie" (P 378), but more than that, his life is a telescoped version of the history of the German middle class as Döblin outlines it in Know and Change! His youthful idealism corresponds to the ideals of 1848; his rise as an industrialist, to the depoliticizing of the bourgeoisie after 1848. His final attempt to join the revolutionaries reflects the attempts of left-liberal intellectuals (Döblin among them) to find a common ground with the proletarian parties during the Weimar Republic. What makes Karl more than the abstract vehicle for this parallelism, and a more convincing character than Paul, is the way the novel interweaves his personal and his political life.
Wadzek's life begins to unravel when he realizes that he can no longer separate business and family life. This pattern is repeated in Men without Mercy, but expanded by the sociopolitical dimension. The family is here presented as the embryo of the whole society: "things are so arranged in this world that people need one another; that man cannot live without woman, woman without man, children without parents, and these little groups cannot live without larger groups, larger groups, again, without still larger groups" (P 173, MWM 207). The ship metaphor of human interdependence, so foreign to the spirit of most of Wadzek, and the solidarity called for at the end of Berlin Alexanderplatz are in Men without Mercy the presupposition of the novel. Döblin now states explicitly that humans are the products of both a familial and a social past.
The life of Karl's archetypical, mythologized family is, like political life, dominated by a struggle for power. The symbolic power of a battle painting Karl first sees in the Pantheon on the hill above the city derives from its simultaneous reflection of political and psychic reality. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, the painting on Ida's wall that celebrates Germany's victory over France in the Franco-Prussian war serves as an ironic comment on Biberkopf's impotence; Biberkopf, reversing the meaning of the picture, sees the Kaiser handing back the sword to the
Frenchman (BA 38, EJ 37). In Men without Mercy, a similar depiction of military victory entails a similar reversal, but this time the reversal is carried out by society rather than the individual. Now an entire population revels in its own exploitation: "[The King's] obedient people, to whom he had in due time conceded certain liberties in gratitude for their bravery in the war, had, loyal to the past, made the best possible use of them; they laboured and laboured and—one might almost say, from the lowest to the highest—did their utmost to increase the power and wealth of the state, in order in their turn to show their gratitude and to be in every respect a truly royal people" (P 78–79, MWM 91).
In relation to Karl, the painting has additional ironies. Consciously, he interprets it as a straightforward emblem of victory and success. At the crest of his business career and as head of an apparently exemplary family, Karl is "the king on the hill after the victory" (P 200–201, MWM 238). When his business is threatened and his marriage begins to collapse, he thinks, "Soon I shall be the vanquished king carrying his sword to the other king on his horse at the top of the hill" (P 270, MWM 325). In both passages, the personal sphere is figuratively connected to business and politics, and both are subsumed in the painting, a symbol both Karl and the population as a whole have thoroughly internalized. Karl has accepted his mother's interpretation of society. Like Wadzek and Biberkopf he heroicizes himself, he must stand or fall on his own.
It is manifest that Karl's marriage is merely an adjunct to his rise in society: "He knew that he owed it to society, to his family and to his rising fortunes to marry" (P 146, MWM 175). The fate of this marriage is intimately connected to the fate of the economy. The happiness and perfection Karl believes he has achieved in marriage are merely a reflection of the optimism and prosperity of the Gründerjahre: "The boom bore them along with it and watched over them" (P 151, MWM 181). When Julie for the first time expresses her unhappiness at his authoritarian household regime, he immediately perceives her as a traitor, a "revolutionary" (P 197, MWM 234). The connection between the two spheres of his life is of course invisible to Karl, whose watchword is "My house is my castle" (P 150, MWM 180). To even mention business to his wife "would be tantamount to a declaration of bankruptcy" (P 193, MWM 229).
What Karl does to Julie only perpetuates what his mother has done
to him. The parallels and the interconnectedness between the repressive family and the repressive society are most clearly stated in the first book, "Poverty," where the mother makes the decision to use Paul as her tool of both survival in society and revenge against her dead husband. It is Karl's mother, not Paul, who first opens his eyes to the rapaciousness of the economic system. It is she who deflates his image of the grandeur of the imperial quarter: "'Didn't they charge admission?' 'No,' he answered. She laughed, 'I bet they didn't. They let you in free so that you can admire them. If we're here long enough, they'll let us pay taxes for the privilege'" (P 29, MWM 31). Unlike Karl, the mother has no illusions about the nature of society. Yet her response is emulation of the worst in her exploiters: "They won't get anything from me. I hate them. I don't care if they know that I'm cheating them. They think they're the only ones who can play that game. I can do it, too" (P 47, MWM 54). She accepts the world the ruling class has defined as unchangeable, and determines to use her son to triumph over that world.
The narrator speaks at one point of a "threefold crime": "the crime of the mother against her son, his crime against himself . . . his betrayal of society" (P 153, MWM 183). They are all aspects of the same crime. The psychic turning points in Karl's life are, first, the point at which he is reconciled with his mother and internalizes his hate for her as self-loathing, and second, his internalization of the values of the ruling class. His transformation is complete when he tastes and enjoys "the atmosphere of power, of contempt for mankind" (P 144, MWM 173). This is the negative Sachlichkeit that Döblin attacks as the repressive Prussian heritage in both "First Glance Back" and Know and Change! : "He now belonged to that type of man who not only constructs machines, but has learned from them" (P 144, MWM 173). That Karl can now rationalize away the poverty he sees in the streets and finance right-wing paramilitary groups is only the logical consequence of his development. His thinking is ruled by a kind of perverted Marxism, a cynical economic determinism. Through the introduction of cheap mass-produced furniture, Karl attracts the money of the rising working class: "The whole question of consumers' purchasing power was carefully investigated, and the public was induced to buy—one might even say to set up house and enter into matrimony—by means of a clever installment system" (P 180, MWM 215).
Yet this cynical calculation only masks the fact that Karl himself
feels determined by the objects that surround him, the totems of bourgeois existence. He lectures his wife: "Clothes make the man, that is certain, but furniture makes the family. One is almost powerless against a sideboard, a leather-upholstered suite, when they stand round one on a carpet specially selected for them. They prescribe one's gait, one's expression, even one's thoughts" (P 195, MWM 231–32). After Julie leaves him he wanders through the house and must subdue these objects once more, must prove that he is their master. He finally destroys his "museum," the grand salon in which hangs his copy of the battle painting, and this destruction seems the symbolic precondition for the reappearance of Paul. The demonic power of similar physical objects in Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine has been demythologized in Men without Mercy . Now they clearly refer to the economic and social structure which Karl has allowed to determine his life.
On the level of both the family and society, Men without Mercy is a novel of betrayal and the possibility of redemption. It begins as a chain of betrayals: the father betrays the mother, the mother Karl, and Karl his own ideals and his wife. As a representative of the middle class, he betrays society by exploiting the workers and making common cause with the ruling aristocracy. It is less clear that either private or social redemption is possible. The problematic question of solidarity and action so emphatically posed by both the end of Berlin Alexanderplatz and Know and Change! does seem to be advanced a step further when Karl tries to join the rebelling strikers. The narrator assures us, moreover, that as a result of the uprising, "the yearning for human dignity had emerged from its old hiding-place . . . and had taken hold of the masses" (P 369, MWM 444). Marxist and leftist critics of Döblin admire Men without Mercy for the lucidity of its image of bourgeois society and the intensity of its sympathy for the oppressed, and always adduce this passage as evidence. But as we have seen, the revolutionary Paul is not allowed to wield the kind of power he would need in order to carry out a real revolution of this society. He may make a heroic sacrifice, serve as an example for those who come after, but no more.
The final images of the novel, in contrast, are deeply pessimistic. The unrepentant mother returns to her native province to live out her life, and on the societal level, there is an impending war:
This countryside that surrounded the cities of an unregenerate race of men was already preparing to receive the tens of thousands of warriors, who, innocent or guilty or only partly guilty, had allowed this age to grow up until the time came for them themselves to lie their length beneath the soil. No matter how luxurious the harvests that this soil bore in summer, the fields were weary of bringing forth ears of corn, soon they were to bear nothing but wooden crosses.
(P 370, MWM 445)
This grandiloquent passage, uncharacteristic of the novel and significantly located just before its end, has not at all been anticipated in the preceding text and can only refer outside the novel, to the war that Döblin saw approaching in Europe. The hope placed in the yearning for human dignity and freedom is dashed on the rocks of this ending.
For Döblin, the partisan of the open-ended novel, the formal recapitulation of lines from the beginning of the novel at the end of Men without Mercy is an especially powerful expression of that pessimism: "They were waiting in their black clothes on the little uncovered station, the mother motionless in the hot sun between two peasant women" (P 11, MWM 9); "They were waiting in their black clothes on the platform of the vast railway station, the old bowed mother beneath her veil, and Erich" (P 369, MWM 444). The schematization of the whole novel—the anonymity of the city and the land—militates against the kind of specificity of detail that gives Berlin Alexanderplatz so much life. The montage that lends the latter novel its substance and depth is to a great degree dependent on the contemporaneity and authenticity of that detail, qualities that make the novel as fresh today as it was in 1929. The city of Men without Mercy, with its government quarter on a hill dominating the surrounding proletarian neighborhoods, is merely a spatial representation of the novel's social message. The schematization of Men without Mercy is certainly a result of Döblin's desire to show clearly the interlocking psychic, social, and political mechanisms of oppression. In his last Berlin novel, the tetralogy November 1918, he unites the documentary detail of Berlin Alexanderplatz with the political pessimism and didactic intention of Men without Mercy .