The Prussian Officer Summary
In this classic story of sexual repression and tension that, when released, explodes into maddened violence, D. H. Lawrence examines the psychology of two men, both German soldiers. The captain, a Junker aristocrat, tall, muscular, and an expert horseman, is accustomed to domineering his soldiers just as he subjugates horses. He is, however, isolated from the vital life of other soldiers; fortyish and unmarried, he has had occasional mistresses but has always returned from their arms with greater tension and irritability after he resumes his military duties. Cold, impersonal, and harsh, he is subconsciously tormented by repressed homoerotic desire for his young orderly, Schoner, whose name means “more beautiful” in German, and whose vigorous physical presence is “like a warm flame on the older man’s tense, rigid body.”
In the most extensive section of the story, part 1, Lawrence develops the theme of conflict between these men, who are locked in a fatal struggle for domination of both body and spirit. With mounting fury, the captain attempts to break down his orderly’s will. At one point, he demands to know why Schoner has a piece of pencil stuck behind his ear. When he learns that the young man has been writing a letter to his sweetheart, the officer humiliates the youth. By the end of this section, the two men are driven by hatred and self-loathing.
In part 2, the psychological conflict reaches a climax through physical release in a scene of terrible intensity. Watching with hypnotic fascination while the captain drinks a mug of beer, Schoner is maddened by the sight of the older man’s throat; he lunges toward the captain, strangles him against a sharp-edged tree base, and stares in shocked horror—but also satisfaction—as the older man expires.
In part 3, Schoner stumbles through forest brakes to a high mountain range; his vision clouded by delirium, he perceives a landscape transmogrified into sinister colors and vague shapes. Sick from fever, probably “brain fever,” he twists in a paroxysm on the grass until his eyes go black, so that he cannot see the distant, gleaming mountains.
In the briefest section, part 4, Schoner is discovered, barely alive, by soldiers who drop his body in horror when they gaze on the youth’s open, black mouth. Later, the remains of the two men are placed at the mortuary, side by side: one rigid and the other young and unused, almost as though he might be roused from a slumber. In death they are not divided.