(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This lengthy story opens in Berlin in late December of 1931 as Charles Upton, a young, poor art student, the son of a farming family in Texas, is seeking new quarters because his hotel is unpleasant, oppressive, and expensive. On Christmas Eve his thoughts turn to Kuno Hallentafel, a childhood friend from Texas and the son of a prosperous merchant. Kuno, whose family came from Germany and later returned for visits, spoke so glowingly of the beauty and grandeur of Berlin that Charles decided to study art there. Charles “in his imagination saw it as a great shimmering city of castles towering in misty light.”

Much of the rest of the plot is devoted to showing how Charles’s early romantic perceptions of Berlin are contradicted by the reality of his life there. In this sense, it is an initiation story common in American literature, in which the protagonist, usually a young person, is disabused of earlier beliefs, or loses his innocence, as he comes to a sobering new awareness or understanding brought about by his travels or encounters with different types of people. Charles’s disillusionment with Berlin comes most dramatically at the hands of the hotel owners and landlords he encounters, in general a base, grasping, and ill-tempered group who have little sympathy for the people who need to rent their ghastly and uncomfortable furnished rooms. When Charles tries to move earlier than expected, one landlady even summons a police officer, who treats him with disdain as she cheats him of some of his meager resources. The most important landlady is Rosa...

(The entire section is 641 words.)