Ernst Toller Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Apart from his plays, Ernst Toller is best known for his autobiographical writings, especially Eine Jugend in Deutschland (1933; I Was a German, 1934), as well as a volume of verse entitled Das Schwalbenbuch (1924; The Swallow-book, 1924).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ernst Toller was one of the best-known dramatists in the Germany of the Weimar Republic. In his lifetime, his reputation rested largely on five plays written between the years 1917 and 1927, half of which he spent behind bars. These plays, connected with his experiences as a revolutionary and a political prisoner, made Toller one of the most liked as well as one of the most hated artists of his time. His renown or notoriety was the result of the controversial topicality of his plays, of the innovative stagings they received at the hands of a series of first-rate directors, and of the playwright’s considerable talents, more lyric than dramatic, perhaps, but abetted by a keen and fantastic imagination.

When the Nazis came to power and suppressed “degenerate” literature, Toller, a socialist and a Jew, became a nonperson. After his death in exile in 1939, he remained relatively obscure until the middle 1960’s, when the thaw in the Cold War climate promoted during the Adenauer “restoration period” took effect. With the growth of the New Left, the politicizing of West German universities, and the rise of a counterculture, scholars and critics began to focus on those periods of German literature predating 1945, which had been neglected because this literature was politically uncomfortable. The result for Toller has been triple rediscovery, first as the representative dramatist of activist or political expressionism; second, as one of the more significant authors of neofactualism, the literary movement associated most closely with the Weimar culture; and finally, as one of the foremost spokespersons of German literature in exile. In addition, thanks in large measure to the liberalizing influence of Bertolt Brecht’s aesthetic theories, East German critics have come to regard Toller as a pioneer in the development of a socialist drama. Toller will in all likelihood prove to be the most enduring of the major expressionist playwrights and the only one to enjoy more than a provincial reputation.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Benson, Renate. German Expressionist Drama: Ernst Toller and George Kaiser. New York: Grove Press, 1984. A study of expressionism in German drama, focusing on Toller and Kaiser. Bibliography and index.

Chen, Huimin. Inversion of Revolutionary Ideals: A Study of the Tragic Essence of Georg Büchner’s “Dantons Tod,” Ernst Toller’s “Masse Mensch,” and Bertolt Brecht’s “Die Massnahme.” New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Chen compares and contrasts Büchner’s Danton’s Death, Toller’s Masses and Man, and Brecht’s The Measures Taken, examining the revolutionary ideals expressed by each writer. Bibliography.

Davies, Cecil. The Plays of Ernst Toller: A Revaluation. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996. A critical reexamination of the plays of Toller. Bibliography and indexes.

Dove, Richard. He Was a German: A Biography of Ernst Toller. London: Libris, 1990. Detailed and evenhanded account of Toller’s life, including a discussion of his works and the main intellectual influences on him.

Jordan, James. “One of Our War Poets Is Missing: The Case of Ernst Toller.” Oxford German Studies 25 (1996): 24-25. Shows how Toller developed the theme of war into antiwar poetry of the highest quality.

Lamb, Stephen. “Intellectuals and the Challenge of Power: The Case of the Munich ‘Räterepublik.’” In The Weimar Dilemma: Intellectuals in the Weimar Republic, edited by Anthony Phelan. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1985. Discusses Toller’s youthful activism in the light of revolutionary reality as well as different versions of ethical socialism espoused by Kurt Eisner and Gustav Landauer.

Pittock, Malcolm. Ernst Toller. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Focuses on the interpretation of Toller’s literary work. Contains a chronology and brief survey of Toller’s life.