How Georg Buchner's Danton's Death stage the opposition between Danton and Robespierre? What are the themes such an opposition allows the author to explore?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Buchner's mind, the opposition between Danton and Robespierre embraces what Yeats in "The Second Coming" would argue defines the modern predicament.  Yeats writes:  "The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."  Buchner offers an opposition between Danton and Robespierre in a similar paradigm.  Danton is not shown to be the typical hero.  He does not experience any moments of super- human liberation through insight.  Yet, he is shown to be one who understands the conditions of the world and can see through the individual who claim to hold power.  Danton understands what Robespierre plans to do as well as the motivations behind it. Danton understands that Robespierre's creation of the Revolutionary Tribunal is a power grab, something that has constricted life out of so many and will eventually take him, as well.  The closing of the drama features Danton apologizing for his own role in the machinery of death as it claims him. Buchner is able to develop a dynamic where Danton represents an insightful voice that is either incapable or unwilling to change the conditions around him, a reality he clearly understands.  In doing so, Buchner depicts a landscape where individual happiness is constantly threatened between human inaction and malevolent autonomy that undercuts consciousness in the modern setting.

In the creation of this paradigm, Buchner is able to effectively explore what freedom is in the modern setting.  He is able to define the limits of human action, both self- imposed and externally constructed.  Buchner is able to explore how human beings must exist in the face of totalizing notions of power.  Danton becomes the prototypical individual who is faced with an authority that seeks encompassing power and widening senses of control.  Robespierre is an almost existential- like threat, one that cannot be denied and must be understood.  Buchner develops Danton as the existential response to such a condition in the world.  He becomes the quintessential human in both condemning and restorative modes.  Buchner is able to explore how human beings function in a world where "the best" individuals lack effective and unifying voice, something that the "worst" of fully possess.

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