Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

There are several interesting themes running through Peter Schneider's book The Wall Jumper (1983), a narrative that's based, at least in part, on Schneider's own experience living in Berlin while the Berlin Wall was up.

Barriers (both literal and figurative)

The Berlin Wall is at the center of this book,...

(The entire section contains 811 words.)

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There are several interesting themes running through Peter Schneider's book The Wall Jumper (1983), a narrative that's based, at least in part, on Schneider's own experience living in Berlin while the Berlin Wall was up.

Barriers (both literal and figurative)

The Berlin Wall is at the center of this book, both literally and figuratively. When the narrative begins, it's been up for about a year, separating Berlin into two cities: East Berlin and West Berlin. It's forbidden to cross it, and although a few characters in the book attempt to do so anyway (so-called wall jumpers), and are punished for it, most of the city's citizens never see the other side after the wall goes up.

What's interesting is how this barrier affects the characters and their sense of self. Some people yearn to visit the other side, either because they have family there or because they have the idea that the other side is somehow better. Many characters actually immigrate to the other side. The barrier separates people, but it also makes it impossible for people to have a complete picture of the situation. The very concept of a barrier stokes curiosity about the other side—or in some cases, a sense of superiority among those characters who feel like they're on the better side of the wall—and in other cases, an ineptitude to make a decision about which side is preferable.

"It will take us longer to tear down the Wall in our heads than any wrecking company will need for the Wall we can see," the narrator says, reinforcing this idea that the barrier is not only physical.

The pain of separation

A subtheme here is the pain of separation. Many characters in the book are separated from their loved ones when the wall goes up, and are forced to decide whether to immigrate to the other side or to live in the absence of their loved ones. That includes Lena, who is on the opposite side as her family.

The danger of stereotypes

Characters on either side of the wall begin to view the other side as being a separate population with its own characteristics. A strange and dangerous phenomenon, it seems, considering that before the wall went up, it was just a big city with many different groups and identities.

The West Berlin side is more modern, while East Berlin is more old-fashioned and has fewer things to buy and eat—just to name one difference between the two sides. Berliners start associating the people on the other side with those qualities, and they're unable to communicate. This furthers a sense of division between the citizens on both sides.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367

The schizophrenia of Berlin is the central theme of The Wall Jumper. As the title suggests, the division can be overcome, but, as the narrative shows, it can be done only physically, not mentally. The wall jumper’s predicament exhibits a much more serious flaw than a pathological desire that he cannot control: He is unable to choose between East and West. In this fashion, the wall jumper’s story figures as a symptom of the pathology of Berlin as a schizophrenic city. This schizophrenia, officially sanctioned by East and West to prevent the outbreak of a more serious disease, is shown to be causing a number of cases like that of the wall jumper. His case is symptomatic of the general condition of the city.

As the narrative develops, it becomes obvious that the narrator himself is not immune to the disease. He realizes that he cannot tear down the wall in his own head. Like the characters of his numerous anecdotes, the narrator could jump across the Wall, but he cannot overcome the mental division, established by history, in his own and in others’ minds. The characters cannot speak to one another without their states speaking through them.

The Wall is the central metaphor of the novel, providing a semiotic system of disjunction and junction. The S-Bahn and the telephone are images of interconnection, whereas the Wall with its watchtowers and border guards represents disconnection or separation. All other images are subject to this binary system of division and flow.

The narrative shifts between three readily distinguishable locales—the modern city of West Berlin with all of its Western trappings, the city of East Berlin, which is not as modern and lags behind in terms of consumer goods, and the hinterland of the German Democratic Republic, a mysterious country associated with the past.

Finally, the novel shows the relationship between man, city, and history. The narrator realizes that, like history, the city of Berlin is a text to be read, a text which he can read but not comprehend. Like a future archaeologist, the narrator can only conclude that the Wall will probably still be standing when no one is left to move beyond it.

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