How does Howard Campbell Jr. in Mother Night compromise his integrity?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hello! You asked for examples of how Howard Campbell compromises his integrity in Mother Night.

In the novel, the protagonist was a Nazi radio propagandist and American spy during WWII. At the start of the novel, Campbell is in an Israeli prison. He is guarded well. One of his guards, Arpad Kovacs, led the same type of double role during the war. Kovacs is proud that his covert machinations led to the execution of fourteen German S.S. (Schutzstaffel) operatives. However, Campbell has no such comfort. He feels guilty that his broadcasts really did further the Nazi cause even though he was supposedly sending secret messages to the Americans during those broadcasts.

So, how did Campbell compromise his integrity?

1) He tells us that he never told his beloved wife, Helga, that he was an American spy. Not only did he betray her innocent trust in him, he lost his wife without ever having had the chance to tell her the truth. He also deeply hurt his parents, who believed that he was a Nazi sympathizer. In short, he lived a lie among the people closest and dearest to him.

My Helga believed I meant the things I said about the races of man and the machines of history, and I was grateful. No matter what I was really, no matter what I really meant, uncritical love was what I needed — and my Helga was the angel who gave it to me.

My mother and father died. Some say they died of broken hearts. They died in their middle sixties, at any rate, when hearts break easily.

2) He had to commit crimes of high treason in order to be successful in his role as an American spy. He indirectly contributed to the horribly violent deaths of millions of innocent people by propagating racist Nazi propaganda. Wirtanen told him:

'To do your job right,' my Blue Fairy Godmother told me, 'you'll have to commit high treason, have to serve the enemy well. You won't ever be forgiven for that, because there isn't any legal device by which you can be forgiven.'

3) He carried out German instructions despite knowing that it was morally wrong. Furthermore, he led his wife to believe that his collaboration with the Germans was real. (Helga herself entertained German troops at the Eastern front. She was presumed dead after the Russians attacked that camp.) Campbell's guilt lies in the fact that he misled his wife. To make matters worse, her death may not have been an easy one.

Those whose orders I carried out in German were as ignorant and insane as Dr. Jones. I knew it. God help me, I carried out their instructions anyway.

If my Helga had survived the battle, her captors had surely prodded her with gun muzzles into a labor gang. They had surely shepherded her into one of Mother Russia's countless huddles of squinting, lumpy, hopeless, grubbing ragbags — had surely made of my Helga a digger of root crops in frosty fields, a lead-footed, splay-fingered clearer of rubble, a nameless, sexless dragger of noisy carts.

To summarize, Campbell compromised his integrity by betraying the trust of those closest to him, by contributing to the racist Nazi philosophy which saw the deaths of millions of Jews, and by knowingly committing treasonous acts.

Thanks for the question.