The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Waitzmann clan is Catholic, of Jewish ancestry—a fact which makes its position in Nazi Germany somewhat tenuous. The racial dilemma is compounded by a moral dilemma epitomized by the two brothers, Ruprecht and Alfried. Ruprecht, the birthday king, expects all the comforts and advantages of the world to be his by right and has little sense of responsibility beyond that of the comfort and prosperity of his immediate family. He considers himself a part of the traditional German industrial elite and is not interested in becoming involved in politics. For him, the Nazi regime is at worst a nuisance which, with the advent of the war, becomes more threatening only because of its unpredictability. No matter which side wins, however, Ruprecht is determined to endure. After all, business is business. He is happy that the fighting has not led to the destruction of the Waitzmann factories. What damage occurred proved to be beneficial insofar as the bombs cleared away out-of-date buildings, and Ruprecht looks forward to replacing the demolished structures with something more modern.

Alfried shows a somewhat different personality, almost antithetical to the one of his brother. He is troubled by his country’s moral collapse but cannot decide what to do about it: whether to marry his would-be nun and embark on a life of good works or to become head of the family concern and devote himself to the pursuit of making money. “My trouble,” he says, “is that I...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

The Birthday King Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ruprecht Waitzmann

Ruprecht Waitzmann (VITS-mahn), the second son of a wealthy widow who owns Waitzmann Industries, a conglomerate that operates pulp and textile mills. He is an ambitious, worldly young man who is hindered from taking over the business by his religious elder brother Alfried. To further his ambitions, he cultivates the friendship of Carin von Hoffbach, a promiscuous, gossipy woman who is the wife of a baron. Her machinations in favor of Ruprecht lead to the imprisonment and torture of Ruprecht’s brother, much to the shame of all concerned.

Alfried Waitzmann

Alfried Waitzmann, the eldest son of Frau Waitzmann. He is torn between his love of the German aristocracy and his religious calling. An unsuccessful affair with a German woman who wants to be a nun in the United States does not solve his dilemma. He refuses his vocation to the priesthood, and he is finally imprisoned in a concentration camp and tortured. When the torture fails to break him, he is made a medical aide in the camp, in which position he reports to the American commander after the war.

Wilhelmina Waitzmann

Wilhelmina Waitzmann, an aging, nearly blind widow who is the mother of Ruprecht and Alfried. She runs Waitzmann Industries during the war, waiting for her favorite son, Alfried, to decide whether he wants to take her place. Her role is a passive one in regard to the story. She waits and hopes that her family will come out of the war intact.

Baron Nicholas von Hoffbach

Baron Nicholas von Hoffbach (HOHF-bahk), a wealthy German nobleman in his fifties who operates as liaison between Waitzmann Industries and the Nazi government. He continually upholds the ideal of the old German...

(The entire section is 748 words.)