Essay on Heinrich Böll: “Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We...”

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German writer Heinrich Böll’s (1917-1985) story “Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We…” was written in the wake of World War II in 1950. Böll’s anti-war stance and experience as a soldier informed his critical look at the discrepancy between the ideals presented in German schools and the way they were destroyed by Nazism. The story is about a disoriented soldier trying to find his bearings and ultimately closure after being badly wounded on the front. The story is set in a school converted to a makeshift hospital in the city of Bendorf during World War II. The story is presented in a first person point of view, but the narrative stance is actually subjective because the narrator exhibits no self-pity in this critique of war. The opposition is outside the story, because it is a satire. The opposition is the deterioration and contamination of the humanistic schools in Germany by the Nazi party, and their destruction of youth to further their own agenda. The story is moved forward by the narrator’s attempts to figure out if he’s in his old school, a classical studies gymnasium, and how he was hurt. As he is moved around, he takes in his surroundings to see if any of it is familiar, and in this process he illustrates the opposition and message of the story. Along the walls he sees a painting of the Greek myth of Medea, a woman who kills her children, representing the loss of innocence in the narrator and a recreation of a Parthenon frieze with depictions of Greek warriors, Hohenzollern rulers and the presumptuous inclusion of Hitler. He passes the artistic renditions of the Nazi’s eugenic dreams, recalling faults in these racial paradigms like the Rhine maiden he considered “a bit bony and severe.” The nobility of the cause he gave his life for is called into question when he identifies the pre-fabricated war memorial hanging in the school, from the last war. This
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