Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Irwin Shaw was considered a very political writer, often with leftist overtones in his work, but in “Sailor Off the Bremen,” his thrust is simply antifascist, not necessarily procommunist. He seems, instead, to point to a happy medium between the two political extremes as the ideal for political thought.

Fascism is made repulsive by its representative in the story, the Nazi Lueger. Preminger (a German communist, and thus diametrically opposed to the German Nazi Party) may be prejudiced, but the reader must concur with his judgment where Lueger is concerned. Preminger, in reporting Ernest’s beating, observes that the other stewards charged with breaking up the demonstration at least “were human beings. [Lueger] is a member of the Nazi party.” To further emphasize Lueger’s repugnance, Shaw hints that the Nazi is also a sadist, particularly in the scenes in which he and Sally walk through the streets alone; he takes pleasure in hurting her, pinching her arm, and kissing her harshly. Lueger and, by representation, fascism are thus portrayed by Shaw as being evil and, as he attempted to warn in this story in 1939, the time of the story’s appearance, dangerous.

Although fascism is bad, communism is not necessarily good, as the communists are seen as impotent to act against Lueger. It is Charley, the football player, the thoroughly American man (whose only philosophy, according to Ernest, is “Somebody knocks you down, you...

(The entire section is 448 words.)