Bertolt Brecht’s Six Short Plays

Bertolt Brecht's six short plays do not hide their messages.

I’ve not read much of Bertolt Brecht’s work before, so when the chance came to read a copy of The Jewish Wife, a collection of six of his plays, I grabbed it. 

I was not disappointed.

If you are looking for subtlety, Brecht is not your man.

He bludgeons the reader with his indictments of the terror that existed in Nazi Germany and with his broadsides at murderous capitalist overlords and the judges that affirm their actions.

But in many ways that is the man’s appeal.

He saw the world in stark terms and, like abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, refused to back away from his vision.

The title play is a short one-they all are, but this one is particularly so-about a Jewish woman who is preparing to leave Germany and her non-Jewish husband.  Each member’s acceptance of the state’s destruction of their marriage is chilling.  An even more disturbing work depicts German parents’ discussing their son’s possible betrayal of them to the government.  Readers of  the short story The Key Game will find this a distressingly familiar inversion of that work, which showed parents’ depending for their survival on their child’s ability to hold off Gestapo by fumbling with a key while the parents hid.

The final play is the longest, and involves a abusive boss driving his workers to exhaustion, beating one of them repeatedly and finally killing him when the worker offers him a flask of water that he mistakes for a stone.

This would be disturbing enough, but becomes even more so when one reads that the judge understands that the boss’  murdered the worker in part because he knew he had been abusive toward the employee, but rules in the owner’s favor anyway because the men are of different classes.

The plays may not be Brecht’s greatest works, and, while containing experimental touches songs and poems, are not filled with memorable lines.

But for those looking for a clear eyed and unabashed rendition of some of the twentieth century’s greatest sources of misery, death and oppresion, these plays may be just what you need.

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