Summer of My German Soldier

by Bette Greene

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Describe the various prejudices in Summer of My German Soldier.

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Prejudice is a significant theme in Summer of My German Soldier.  It is displayed in a variety of contexts.  One way it can be seen is through the lens of race.  Racial prejudice is important to the thematic development of the narrative.  One layer is evident in the Southern setting where Patty lives.  Ruth is treated as a "second class citizen" because she is African- American.  In this light, racial prejudice exposes itself, relegating people to subservient roles, and taking advantage of them without any recourse.  The prejudice that Ruth must confront is seen in the part of town in which she lives and the daily reminder that segregation is the way of Southern life. Another layer of racial prejudice is amongst the townspeople's attitudes towards Germans.  This extends into Patty's family.  Anton is perceived to be the stereotypical Nazi.  Even though Anton is not anywhere near the savage cruelty of the Nazis, prejudice has judged him amongst the towns people to be a Nazi and to embody all the negative tenets of that stereotype.  In both of these cases, racial prejudice dominates much of the novel and forms the thematic backdrop for Patty's evolution in character for she sees how Ruth is despised because she is African- American, while Anton for him being German.

Prejudice also takes form on an interpersonal level.  Patty experiences this in how she is perceived.  She is always viewed as secondary to Sharon.  This prejudice exists in her family and amongst the townspeople.  The prejudicial attitudes cast against Patty are primarily because she is different and does not adhere to the social expectations around her.  Patty believes that such prejudice directed against her is because she is "living with a disadvantage."  She is "plain" and cerebral in terms of how she approaches literature and writing.  She is far from the Shirley Temple aesthetic and Sharon has achieved.  The town considers Sharon to be superior to Patty because she embodies more of what the social configuration validates.  At the same time, Patty experiences prejudice from the domestic realm, as her parents favor Sharon and denigrate Patty.  The attraction to Anton was because he validated her voice apart from prejudicial attitudes, something that was not evident in the world that surrounds Patty.

I think that one can also find economic prejudice in the novel.  Patty's father is insecure, a condition exacerbated by economic reality.  His desire to make money prejudices him against everyone else and stand firm against those who are poor.  Harry Bergen's prejudice is on display when he abuses and reprimands Patty for befriending Freddy Dowd.  Freddy is poor and because of this, one sees Harry's economic prejudice on display.  Economic prejudice is reflective of an exclusionary attitude that is present in the town.  It is the same prejudice that enables Edna to go to Baptist camp, something that Patty's mother forbids on religious grounds, but also on economic ones.  Economic prejudice, similar to the condition of racial and subjective expressions, helps to define individual identity.

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