The author-narrator is a narrative device, employed by Alfred Döblin to emphasize the authorial impotence of the modern writer, who is neither omniscient nor able to master the plot and maintain the fiction of his work like a traditional novelist. The figure of the author repeatedly admits to having second thoughts. The author is part of the fiction of the novel, or Erzahlwerk (narrative work), as Döblin preferred to call it. As a narrative device, the figure of the author justifies the deliberate fragmentation of the novel, causing abrupt changes in perspective and mixing historical documents with mystic visions.
Friedrich Becker, the main protagonist, is a Faustian figure. The end of part 3 contains a wager with Satan, reminding the reader of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (1808, 1833). Goethe’s Faust figure also has “two souls, alas! residing in his breast,” he also concludes a wager with the Devil, which he loses, and his soul is also saved in the end. The use of the traditional Faust myth has a parallel in Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus (1947; Doctor Faustus, 1948), which was written not only at approximately the same time but also in the same city. Doctor Faustus, as well as Karl and Rosa, was written in Los Angeles, California, where both authors lived in exile during World War II. It is doubtful, however, that these men exerted any influence on each other, because they were rather distant,...
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