Themes and Characters
The cast of characters in Summer of My German Soldier includes a variety of vivid personalities. Patty Bergen, the central character, is a twelve-year-old who perceives herself as plain and outspoken and thus "living with a disadvantage." Although frequently rebuffed when she tries to express love to her parents, she doggedly devises stories and scenarios designed to win their lasting affection. Her father brutally beats her, and her mother ridicules her appearance and behavior, but Patty too often blames herself for their abuse, rationalizing that if only she were prettier or more talented, her parents would love her the way they do her younger sister, Sharon. Patty's father considers Sharon—a cute, pampered little girl—the next Shirley Temple.
Patty's first-person narration of the story reveals her wit, imagination, and intelligence. Her favorite pastime is reading the dictionary, and she seriously applies herself to a study of language. Patty, demands precision of meaning: "When I read a book," she says, "I want to understand precisely what it is the writer is saying, not just almost but precisely." After meeting Charlene Madlee, a newspaper reporter who encourages her interest in writing, Patty aspires to a career in journalism.
Harry Bergen, Patty's father, puts running his dry goods store ahead of caring for his children. He is portrayed as a monstrously cruel man, but Greene hints that his violent behavior is the result of...
(The entire section is 506 words.)
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Harry is Patty's abusive, ill-tempered father. A violent man full of repressed rage and self-hatred, he takes his frustrations out on Patty. As the only Jewish merchant in a Protestant town, Harry is constantly under pressure to underplay his ethnicity and to go along with his neighbors.
Harry is a complex character who encourages his family to be silent and go along with the majority view. He despises his own roots, and reacts with rage when his brother talks about their childhood poverty. His childhood has led him to become obsessed with the value of money, and he hates his father-in-law because he had to ask him for money to start his store. His history of violence goes back to his very early childhood, when his father had to hold him down on his bed, repeating "you will not be violent" over and over again.
(The entire section is 145 words.)
Patricia Ann Bergen
Patricia (also known as Patty and Honey Babe) is the young protagonist of Summer of My German Soldier. Lonely and frustrated, she shelters an escaped German POW and ends up being put on trial for treason. She is an outcast in multiple ways: because she is Jewish; her family is wealthy; and she is perceived as a failure by her parents. By the end of the novel, Patty has also become an outcast from her country—her unpatriotic harboring of a POW is judged to be treason.
Patty strongly feels this isolation. She copes with her boredom, frustration, and loneliness by escaping into her own world of make-believe, exaggeration, and lies. These practices lead her into even more trouble, isolation, and parental disapproval.
By the end of the novel, Patty has gained an understanding of the consequences of her actions, the reality of family relationships, and the racial prejudices of her society. However, she still has a long way to go. Summer of My German Soldier is a study of Patty's developing mind, and the novel ends before she has completely matured.
(The entire section is 182 words.)
See Patty Bergen, Patricia Ann Bergen
Max is Harry's brother. A good-humored man, he tells the important story of how their father had tried to make Harry less violent. Although he tells the story in an amused manner, it only serves to make Harry angry. Max is not embarrassed about his poor childhood, and he is the brother who remembers family history.
See Patricia Ann Bergen, Honey Babe
Pearl is Patty's selfish and uncaring mother. She is a born saleswoman who is especially good at talking poor women into spending too much money. The pet of her own family, she refuses to grow up and still expects constant gifts and special treatment from her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Fried.
Patty feels that she is unattractive compared to her mother, and her mother does nothing to dissuade her of that. She is constantly comparing her to other girls her age as well as her younger sister, faulting her for her lack of femininity. She sometimes talks to people about her in her presence while acting as if she were not there.
Sharon is Patty's little sister. She is too young to play an active part in the story, but is used repeatedly as an example of everything that Patty is not. Quiet, beautiful, and well-behaved, Sharon spends much of the book out of the arena of action playing in her sandbox with friends of the same age. Unlike her mother, Sharon is an extremely affectionate child and adores Patty and Ruth.
Sheriff Cauldwell is one of the few sympathetic adults in Patty's life. Initially believing Patty's story about the way she got the ring, Cauldwell forbids her father from taking it away from her. It is apparent that he knows about Patty's home life and wishes to do what he can to make her life more bearable.
Freddy is "poor white trash" who tries his best to befriend Patty. Her father forbids her even to speak to him, as Freddy is considered too poor to be a...
(The entire section is 891 words.)