Echoes of Despair: The Post-War Nihilism in Wolfgang Borchert's 'The Man Outside' | MyPaperHub

Having experienced the first-hand experience of the Second World War and returning home crippled due to the injuries sustained during the war, Wolfgang Borchert, comes home to a nation that is also attempting to recollect itself from the ashes. The people are physical, emotionally, psychologically affected, families are broken or breaking social structures dysfunctional, and there is clear indication of distress in the society. In “The Man Outside” he captures the post-war hopelessness of a character named Beckmann. Beckmann returns home only to find that he had lost his wife, his home and, as a result, had lost his sense of belief system. He no longer had anything to believe in or live for and realizes the evil nature of the consequences of the war. Borchert released the play and then had a subtitle on the play that read, " play that no theater wants to perform, and no audience wants to see." (100) He indicated that the people were not ready to face the realities of the war or even to remember it although the realities were following them right at home. The post-war destitution and consequences that inspired Borchert to focus on the plight of the people and he captured the feeling of stagnation and despair the larger society felt following the war.

The play right from the beginning brings in the emotion of stagnation in the consequences of the war as it starts with inducing the feelings of lack of recovery in the post-war period by the individuals. It begins with Beckmann washed off to the shore of river Elbe, and it is an overfed undertaker that is examining the body who symbolizes death. The play indicates that the body washed on the shore was not the first one suggesting that more people could not recover from the devastation of the war and hence opted for the easy way out which is death. God whose part is played by an old man enters crying and claiming that individuals had lost hope, and none of the people believed in him anymore. He laments that “Death is the new God.” It is because; it had become easier for people to choose to die than to choose life. Death also explains how he had grown fat from the business of War that had continued to bring massive death. It meant that the people had not left the war behind them and that death had followed them home and were haunted. They were not leaving the war behind to recover and were stagnated in the death and devastation and hence committing suicide just like Beckmann had done. God also goes ahead to indicate that there was nothing he could do to stop the people from the obsession with the war and death. Even the river calls Beckmann faint hearted and therefore, did not allow him to kill himself as if to offer hope to him, but his fixation with the war was way above the hope he felt.

As if to try to provide hope in the post-war period, Beckmann is helped by a girl that wants to offer warmth and help him recover but cut short when the play introduces the wife of the woman who has an amputated leg following the war. On seeing the man, the war had haunted and followed him altogether as he feels the urge to commit suicide again but is convinced otherwise by Other. Moreover, when the girl removes Beckmann’s goggles, he could see the world around him as dark and blurry which was an indication of his perception of the world after the war. It meant that the bleak chances of life and survival and desperation during the war had followed him, and he felt haunted by all the men that died under his command in the war and for men such as the husband to the girl who was an amputee thanks to his commands. Instead of moving on and accepting the causal ties of war, he moves further into the past of the war by trying to look for the Colonel that gave the commands to him so that he may take the blame for the lost lives in the war under his leadership. He gets into a dream where he could hear all the dead call out, "Beckmann! Sergeant Beckmann!" (275) which indicated that he was not recovering from the war but brought a feeling of further stagnation in the war.

The nihilism in the play is depicted further when Beckmann finds out that his parents killed themselves during the post-war denazification. It meant that even with the end of the war abroad. The war was still at home as the German and Austrian cultures were being gotten rid of in the new society. It meant that some people still had no place in the postwar society meaning that the war was not over, and recovery was far from near. Then destitution of the situation is emphasized when he says, “It is night, night, and the door is closed. The man is standing outside. Outside on the doorstep. The man is standing on a riverside, be it the Elbe, the Seine, the Volga, or the Mississippi. The man stands there crazed, frozen, hungry, and damn tired.” (280) It further evoked the emotion of stagnation in the war era, and the people were not on the path to recovery.

In conclusion, Wolfgang Borchert took a nihilist approach in The Man Outside as he tried to indicate that the war may have been over on the international scene and individuals going home but they had not left it behind. It meant that the individuals had brought the war at home and continued to fight amongst and within them without leaving room for recovery. He uses symbolism to bring out the feelings of non-recovery in the post-war era. 

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