Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 708


Spitzen-on-the-Dien. Imaginary German village in which the new Germany is to be born. The novel opens and closes in 1945 in Allied-occupied Germany with a first-person, neo-Nazi narrator, Zizendorf, declaring that the town is an idyllic place. Ensuing descriptions, however, are anything but idyllic. The season is winter, and a thick fog hovers over everything. The town’s architecture has been destroyed—broken mortar and bricks are strewn about, walls are pock-marked and smashed, and buildings teeter at precarious angles. Supporting beams are charred, and a sense of permanence has given way to instability. In fact, the very earth has been scorched and rendered unproductive.

Fires burn along the town’s curbs, and excrement pits smolder and send noxious gases through the air. Wells have been poisoned, and the nearby canal is thoroughly polluted and odious. Carcasses of animals and flimsy tar-paper shacks dot the landscape. Banners, which once celebrated warriors marching off to victory, now lie in mud, and a few of those same soldiers, now ragged and defeated, trudge home with venereal disease. All the citizens are clothed in drab gray, and the prevailing imagery suggests feebleness and sterility.

Most inhabitants stay indoors, but those who are active suggest a society of cruelty and destructiveness. Two parallel plots unravel in the night. In the one Zizendorf and three accomplices string wire across a road to snare the motorcycle-bound Leevey, a lone Jewish American soldier in charge of a third of Germany’s territory. In killing this overseer, Zizendorf believes he is inaugurating a new, invigorated Germany, free of oppression. At the same time, a figure named the “Duke” chases a child through the streets, eventually murdering the child and serving the flesh to his family for dinner.

John Hawkes served as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in Italy and Germany during the war and was inspired to write the novel after reading a magazine article about a cannibal in Bremen, where he had been stationed. Thus, the novel’s title refers not only to the Duke but, more important, to Zizendorf and the German nation itself. All are predatory creatures scavenging in a blasted landscape and feeding themselves on their own carcasses. To emphasize the circularity of despair and predation, Hawkes shifts the temporal setting in the middle section to 1914 and follows one of the characters from that time to the novel’s present.

Sportswelt Brauhaus

Sportswelt Brauhaus (sportz-VELT BROW-hows). Chic restaurant and bar patronized by the wealthy and Germany’s military elite. Stella Snow, an elderly woman in 1945, appears as a young singer in 1914, singing at the Sportswelt Brauhaus. The season shifts to summer, and Stella is an object of sexual desire. The restaurant is bucolic, with a garden of fragrant flowers. It is decorated by trellised vines and filled with the calls of night birds. Linden trees adorn the horizon, and the rising sun casts disarming blue shadows.

To all appearances, the place is edenic, but a serpent inhabits this garden in the form of jealous lovers and a self-satisfied military. The seeds of Nazi Germany have already been sown in the aristocratic elite of pre-World War I society and are most evident in Stella’s marriage to Ernst Snow, son of the restaurant’s owner.

Upper World

Upper World. Mountain hotel to which the privileged escape. After a chaotic courtship, the two retreat to the mountains, where they honeymoon and temporarily leave the growing national tension behind. This geographically elevated place is compared to Valhalla, the residence of divinity, and is characterized as being near to God. For a brief time the new couple appear contented, but reminders of the lower world intrude in the figure of a decrepit horse and stark icons of Christ’s crucifixion and death, which Ernst compulsively buys and uses to decorate their marriage bed. No sooner do they return to the troubled world below than Ernst dies and the first World War begins.

Hawkes’s Germany is country of terror and destruction, with each generation instructing its young on the arts of self-ruination. Stella and Zizendorf represent the social extremes of the nation—one a crass, amoral survivor and the other a deluded megalomaniac who will surely lead the nation into another military disaster.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 213

Berry, Eliot. A Poetry of Force and Darkness: The Fiction of John Hawkes. San Bernardino, Calif.: R. Reginald, the Borgo Press, 1979. Discusses the link between historical time and the unconscious in The Cannibal and finds repression the link between the sexual and the political in the novel.

Busch, Frederick. Hawkes: A Guide to His Fictions. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1973. Presents a close analysis of the novels. Discusses Hawkes’s style and social concern in The Cannibal. Also discusses animal imagery in relation to the theme of sterility and hopelessness.

Greiner, Donald J. Comic Terror: The Novels of John Hawkes. Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis State University Press, 1973. Analyzes Hawkes’s comedy in terms of “black humor” and discusses his use of poetic techniques and concern for structural coherence.

Kuehl, John. John Hawkes and the Craft of Conflict. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1975. Discusses the tension between Eros and Thanatos in Hawkes’s novels in relation to setting, myth, structure, characterization, and narrative focus. Also analyzes Hawkes’s use of characters to represent ideas.

Reutlinger, D. P. “The Cannibal: The Reality of Victim.” Critique 6, no. 2 (Fall, 1963): 30-37. Sees the characters as victims of romantic politics and discusses Hawkes’s antirealistic art as a way of evoking sympathy through intellectual apprehension of horror.

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