Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.