Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Sleepless Days, the author has adapted to his needs two familiar themes of German literature. He fuses an artist’s sympathy with an individual’s struggle against the demands of an unrelenting society, and he recalls the legend of Sleeping Beauty, which equates reaching maturity with awakening from a long sleep. The protagonist has spent exactly half of a lifetime in oblivion when he finally awakes to “sleepless days” and to a new awareness. Like Sleeping Beauty, he also awakes to a new love in his life, but, instead of living happily ever after as in a fairy tale, he must cope with the oppressive society around him.

Society in this novel is represented by the educational system. It can easily deal with cynics such as Simrock’s colleague and vice principal Kabitzke, who accommodates the irrationality of the totalitarian state by putting on a front that will further his career. From Kabitzke’s point of view, honesty, as Simrock practices it, is nothing but a method of self-destruction. Yet the protagonist is no longer willing to conform to a schizophrenic system in which basic human rights, such as thinking independently or even honestly abiding by the law of the land, are called acts of defiance and punished by denying Simrock his teaching position and Antonia a place as a university student.

Just as sleep is a metaphor for self-induced passivity and stupor, physical ailments symbolize the state of Simrock’s mental...

(The entire section is 417 words.)