Herman Heijermans Essay - Critical Essays


During his career as Holland’s leading modern dramatist, Herman Heijermans produced more than twenty full-length plays and at least that many one-act plays, most of them of outstanding quality. His first play, Dora Kremer, showed his talent, but it was a weak drama, and the characters were not convincing. Ahasverus, the one-act play that followed, revealed the master hand of the born dramatist. He created a moving picture of the pious old Jew who refuses to give up his faith, in spite of the horrors of the Russian pogroms.


With Ghetto, a full-length “middle-class tragedy,” Heijermans achieved the development promised by this first success. The play also reflects his early business experiences in Rotterdam, as well as his observations of Jewish life in Amsterdam. He was alienated from Judaism and attracted by socialism. There is thus much of the rebellious Heijermans in the play’s young hero, Rafaël, but although he wanted to criticize the Jews unmercifully for the spiritual ghetto in which they had trapped themselves, he could not resist warm admiration for life and character wherever he found them.

The redeeming qualities of Rafaël’s father, Sachel, and his father’s sister, Esther, as well as what he himself called “the Jewish spirit,” are fused in Rebbe Haëzer, who emerges as the only wholly admirable character in the play. The easygoing rabbi, continually sipping coffee, presents such a warm and glowing view of Jewish family life that the stubborn adherence of Sachel and Esther to the old ways seems more understandable, their characters more human. Rafaël appears as a romantic but vague hero when he comes up against the life-size figure of this genial, wise old man.

Het zevende gebod

In Het zevende gebod, Heijermans gave his ideas on middle-class and religious conservatism and on marriage based on property a setting more typical of Dutch national life than the one he had employed for Ghetto. This time the family is Catholic, but it is again the authoritarian father, with his blunt manners, who is the dominant figure in the play. A member of the agricultural middle class, Dobbe, Sr., abides by its most hypocritical conventions and is a symbol of the bourgeoisie that Heijermans despised. His relationship with his children has never been a loving and intimate one. Yet the younger generation, while romantic and idealistic, like the one in Ghetto, is not very convincing.

The Good Hope

With The Good Hope, Heijermans began a group of plays that were to portray the position of the worker in society. There is socialism in this play, too, but the...

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