Student Question

What is the climax and anti-climax of "The Bread" by Wolfgang Borchert? What point of view does the author use?

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Wolfgang Borchert's short story "The Bread" ("Das Brot") focuses on an incident in the lives of a married couple living in post-World War Two Germany and how that incident naturalistically reflects the realities of living after war.

The rising action of the story occurs when the wife suddenly wakes up at 2:30 AM because she hears a noise coming from the kitchen—perhaps the sound of someone bumping against a chair. She discovers that her husband is not in bed with her and hurries down into the dark kitchen to see what has caused the disturbance.

The climax occurs when the wife discovers that her husband snuck down to the kitchen to cut himself an extra slice of their rationed bread. The wife does not attack him for this deception, but instead convinces him to come back to bed and listens to him chew the bread while she tries to fall asleep.

The falling action occurs the next evening at dinner. The wife gives her husband four slices of bread instead of the rationed three slices, taking only two slices for herself. She notes that she feels sorry for him, but makes sure not to make the act seem like one of pity.

The story is told from a third person point of view, but includes dialogue spoken in the first person. This choice consciously helps the reader get critical distance from the event and allows us to omnisciently understand the thoughts of both the husband and wife. For example, when the wife stumbles upon her husband cutting himself bread in the kitchen, we may equally discover that she believes he looks "pretty old" in his night shirt and that he believes she looks "pretty old" due to her "hair at night."

We are able to contextualize the point of the story through this distance: that suffering and empathy walk hand-in-hand. Rather than punish her husband for taking what is not his or demanding that he make reparations for what he did, the woman chooses to provide comfort to him by playing along with his lie about why he came down to the kitchen. Additionally, she acts out of even greater compassion by giving up part of her portion of the dinner's bread to him and pretending she is doing so simply because it doesn't "agree" with her. She elects to suffer on his behalf, despite the fact that she is troubled by this lie. It is a radical act of kindness in a country that has been steeped in the midst of wartime atrocity and crises. It is also a deeply ironic one, given that Germany was instrumental in enacting those atrocities.

Ultimately, the clinical, almost detached nature with which this tale is told is unnerving—a gesture toward the truth that this kind of starvation and deprivation was commonplace in Germany after the war. Germany was provided with very little relief from the Allied forces from mid-1945 to mid-1947, despite the fact that food production had been severely impacted by the war. The food that was received from America was of low nutritional value, composed of substandard ingredients, and scarce. This knowledge makes the wife's small act of sacrifice all the more powerful.

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