In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

by Erik Larson

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Student Question

In In the Garden of Beasts, did Martha's reason for her first marriage's failure solely contribute to her divorce?

Expert Answers

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If we think of what Martha said in a broad enough way, it can be seen as the only real reason that she divorced Bassett Roberts.  Let us first look at what Martha said about the end of the marriage.  This can be found on the last page of Chapter 3 in In the Garden of BeastsErik Larson says that Martha wrote to Roberts

Do you know really why our marriage didn’t turn out? … Because I was too immature and young, even at 23, to want to leave my family!

If we think of immaturity broadly enough, this was why their marriage did not “turn out.”  However, it was not just because she didn’t want to leave her family.

I would argue that the major reason that the marriage failed is that Martha was much too immature to be married.  It seems that she entered the marriage for really bad reasons.  She was used to getting marriage proposals from men and Bassett was the first man who had really interested her who did not necessarily want to marry her.  So she pushed him so hard to marry her really just because it annoyed her that he was not sufficiently in love with her.  As Martha says on page 25,

Never before or since have I loved and been loved so much and not had proposals of marriage within a short time!  … So I was deeply wounded…

What this tells us is that she was so immature that she would push a man to marry her in large part because she was upset that he wasn’t overwhelmed with love for her.  This sort of immaturity seems to be the main reason for the failure of her marriage.

(Of course, the fact that Bassett would give in and marry someone for that reason can also be blamed for the failure.”

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