Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Karl Simrock

Karl Simrock, an East Berlin high-school teacher. Soon after his thirty-sixth birthday, he examines his past life and finds it wanting. His marriage is empty, and his work as a teacher is governed by authoritarian regimentation. He leaves his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Leonie, and enters into a relationship with Antonia Kramm. At work, he starts to measure the difference between East German ideology and reality. He tries to teach his students to question and doubt, not merely to accept. This emphasis causes him to lose his position, and he takes work as a bakery truck driver with Boris.

Ruth Simrock

Ruth Simrock (rewt), a part-time insurance agent and Karl’s wife. Karl complains that she will not accept certain matters as “women’s business.” Very controlled, she never cries, even when her husband suddenly leaves her. She admits that marriage to him has been “hellish.” She accuses him of leaving her because school authorities “broke his back.”


Kabitzke (kah-BITS-keh), the vice principal at Simrock’s school. A timid sycophant, he cannot understand Karl’s rebelliousness and warns him that it is self-destructive. He refuses to support Karl publicly.

Antonia Kramm

Antonia Kramm, a former physics student, now a free-lance typist at the age of twenty-eight. When younger, she was a textbook socialist; she became embittered by the hypocrisy of her society. Accepted at a university, she studies physics to avoid politics, but after three semesters she is nevertheless exmatriculated for political reasons. She attempts to create the greatest possible independence for herself, dreaming of “islands of solitude” in a society of enforced community. On vacation in Hungary with Simrock, she attempts, without first informing him, to escape to Austria. She is caught and imprisoned for at least nineteen months.


Boris, a physically strong, twenty-two-year-old bakery truck driver with “charming long hair.” His dream is to see Liverpool. No heroic worker, he believes that anyone who claims to derive satisfaction from delivering bread is a liar or a fool. He goes through the notions of political commitment, not out of conviction but to be left in peace. He thus destroys Karl Simrock’s remaining illusions about his society.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Even though the novel is told by a third-person narrator, the protagonist has some rather obvious autobiographic traits. Like Karl Simrock, Jurek Becker lived in East Berlin when he wrote this novel, and Simrock’s concerns are those of contemporary intellectuals who believe that, in a closed Communist society, they are merely existing rather than living. Simrock is trapped not only by his environment but also by his own inertia. For years, practically throughout his adult life, he has successfully suppressed any urge to think independently or to act as an individual. A fear of the consequences of leaving his comfortable niche has slowly forced him into a vegetative state in which time passes unnoticed. Nothing but an occasional outburst of rage indicates that beneath Simrock’s calm outer appearance there exists a human soul. Simrock is a sensitive man who is not ashamed to weep. He is filled with self-doubt and often fearful. He is essentially a loner who does not easily relate to others. He blames his mother for his father’s early death and dislikes her matter-of-fact manner, yet he married Ruth, who seems to have a similar approach to life. He is without close friends and remains aloof from his colleagues in school.

Once Simrock embarks on his journey into a new existence based on self-determination, the complexity of his character allows him to develop new habits such as asking an acquaintance for help when he needs an apartment (his request is...

(The entire section is 601 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Binding, Paul. Review in New Statesman. XCVIII (November 30, 1979), p. 895.

Bremer, T. “Roman eines Storenfriedens: Uber Jurek Beckers Schlaflose Tage,” in Neue Rundschau. LXXXIX (1978), pp. 470-476.

Demetz, Peter. Postwar German Literature, 1986.

Howe, Irving. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIV (September 16, 1979), p. 7.

Wickenden, Dorothy. Review in The New Republic. CLXXXI (November 3, 1979), p. 38.