(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Romantic. In 1888, Joachim von Pasenow is a lieutenant in the German army. Wearing a uniform for a long time, he looks on it as his natural dress. He believes a uniform hides a man’s nakedness; unlike civilian clothes, it makes a man amount to something. His friend Bertrand left the army and now wears mufti all the time; it seems indecent. Joachim feels a little insecure about his honor, too. His brother Helmuth was killed in a duel, and his father makes much of Helmuth’s unsullied honor.

Herr von Pasenow comes to Berlin to visit Joachim. He is a funny little man, rotund and intent, and his son is a bit ashamed of him. At a casino they meet Ruzena, a Bohemian girl. Von Pasenow strokes her familiarly and gives her money. She accepts the attentions easily, but when the old man jokes about marriage she goes into the lavatory to cry. Later, perhaps as a kind of penance, Joachim takes Ruzena as his mistress.

Bertrand, too, takes a friendly interest in Ruzena, and he helps her get on the stage. Ruzena is happy with Joachim, but she begins to distrust Bertrand. He lets slip the suggestion that she should leave the chorus and go into a notion shop. Joachim leaves Ruzena at times to visit his family, for his father is anxious that he should resign from the army and look after the family estate. He is also anxious that Joachim marry Elisabeth.

When Bertrand meets Elisabeth, he speaks to her eloquently of a love based on renunciation; the innocent girl is upset. Ruzena, convinced that Bertrand is the evil genius separating her from her lover, shoots him in the arm. She then leaves Joachim and goes back to work in a café. Joachim, also believing that Bertrand is a bad influence, settles money on Ruzena and proposes to Elisabeth. With this deed he breaks with his past, for he does not ask Bertrand’s advice about the marriage.

Before accepting Joachim, Elisabeth visits Bertrand in the hospital. He declares his love for her but is resigned to her marriage with Joachim as inevitable. For a time after their marriage, Joachim thinks of Elisabeth as an unapproachable madonna. They do not have their first child for more than one year.

The Anarchist. In 1903, Esch is dismissed from his post as a bookkeeper at a shipping concern in Cologne. Martin, a crippled socialist, somehow learns of Esch’s dismissal and tells him of a better job in Mannheim. They discuss the matter in Frau Hentjen’s restaurant. Esch knows he will have to have a reference. He finally gets a good one by threatening to expose the crooked manager under whom he worked.

In Mannheim, he finds employment in a large firm owned by Bertrand. He makes friends with Korn, a customs inspector, and with Lohberg, a pallid tobacconist. In a short while, he goes to room with Korn and his sister Erna. Erna is unattractive but wants desperately...

(The entire section is 1175 words.)