Summer of My German Soldier Themes

Themes

Race and Ethnicity
The most important theme of Summer of My German Soldier is the separation of racial and ethnic groups. Patty's religion, Ruth's race, and the prejudices of Jenkinsville all play against each other to illustrate the problematic racial politics of rural Southern culture in the 1940s.

Racial Relations
The inherent racism of the South is illustrated most obviously through the character of Ruth, the family's maid. She rarely talks about the daily prejudice she faces, but the reality of her situation is revealed in several key scenes. In one such episode, a neighbor demands that the family fire Ruth for her "uppityness." Even Patty initially thinks in these racist terms, as shown by her later rejection of them. As she says, "Ruth isn't one bit uppity. Merely prideful." As the descendant of slaves and the potential victim of lynch mobs and crowd hatred, Ruth already knows more than enough about violence and the corruption of power. Because of this, Ruth is immediately drawn to Anton's plight. He is hunted, imprisoned, and cast out from the world for being German, just as Ruth is despised for being black.

Anti-Semitism
Initially, the Bergen family's Judaism is not an obvious issue in either the novel or the town. At times this seems to be deliberate, as when the family discusses the fate of their relatives in Nazi-occupied parts of Europe. When Grandmother Fried says she worries because she has not heard from their relatives in quite some time, there is only silence in response. Any intimations of anti-Semitism in their town are subtle. Most obviously, her father is not granted extra rations of gas to go to a synagogue forty miles away since it is deemed a waste of resources.

More subtly, Harry's minority status forces him to go along with the majority opinion. For instance, Harry does not try to stop the townspeople from evicting a Chinese-American storekeeper after war with Japan is declared However, when Patty is revealed as the one who sheltered Anton, suddenly her and her family's Jewishness becomes a factor. Her father expresses outrage that she, as a Jew, would help a Nazi. Moreover, the townspeople deride her with cries of "Jew-Nazi." In an ironic parallel with earlier events, her parents are forced out of their store.

Patriotism and Identity
Anton, Patty, and Ruth have complex personal identities that are in conflict with national identity and patriotism. Anton Reiker is a divided character: both a Nazi and a German, the book serves to humanize him and define him in much broader terms. Educated, polite, and a speaker of perfect English, Anton cannot be seen as simply a German Nazi soldier. By hiding him, Patty is considered as treasonous and subversive; her Jewish heritage exacerbates the public outcry against her

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