Competitions‎ > ‎State Competition‎ > ‎

2017 State TOP ESSAYS

Stephanie Ray, Cedar Rapids Jefferson, 2017

Essay Prompt: Literature Essay Prompt:  Discuss the many ways that Germans, Nazis or Hitler are portrayed in Transit and at least two of the short selection readings.  Are there common themes that emerge?  Use examples from the readings to support your answer.

       Throughout the Second World War, Germans, Nazis, and Hitler are portrayed in many ways. In Transit, Anne Seghers portrays a selection of themes, many of which portray her leftist and Socialist beliefs and values. The narrator in Transit is a German who has escaped a camp. He travels to France, during the German occupation of it. The German presence in France is obvious, with German flags and Nazi swasticas visible on every street. The narrator is ashamed of his fellow Germans, and he feels his "blood boil" at the very sight of a swastika. Although Nazis are portrayed in a negative light, the narrator is a clear example that not all Germans side with the Nazi ideology. The narrator is helped by several Germans, cousins who assist provide him with shelter, money, and refugee visas. Heinz is German, and is portrayed as the most saintly character in the novel. He sticks to his morals, and has a higher objective. He remains patient throughout his struggle, although he is dealt a great deal of injustices, and lends advice and support to the narrator. Due to his high moral standards and evident loyalty, Heinz is able to get to where he wants and needs to be. Another character, who serves as a foil to Heinz is Aschelroth. Aschelroth is known to 'leave his friends in the lurch', and has abandoned his recently deceased friend Weidel when he is first introduced. He is unloyal and selfish to his own needs and wants. He is also mysteriously wealthy, and is able to unfairly purchase many things that he does not deserve. There is a clear theme of loyalty and morality in this novel, as is shown in the foil of Heinz and Aschelroth.

       In the short selection work by Virginia Woolf, she portrays her pacifist ideology. While she clearly marks the Germans as 'the attackers' and the Englishmen as 'the defenders', she also states that both sides are men in planes, providing a comparison between them directly after a contrast. This shows her belief in the humanity of Germans, although they are on the other side of the war. Germans are portayed as agressors but also as men just as the Englishmen are. Woolf focuses less on the evil of the Germans and more on humanity as a whole. She discusses the unfair way that the Englishmen are armed and fighting while the women are left behind unarmed and defenseless, with only their minds to fight with. Also addressed are the violent needs of men. Woolf tells of how men are misguided, and women need to help and teach them. According to Woolf, men need to be given other ways to channel their violent urges, and women are tasked with that duty. A pacifist theme is portrayed in Woolf's work.

       In another short selection work, Rebecca West makes her anger towards the Germans evident. The short story opens similar to Woolf's, with thoughts on an air raid, but the woman in the story reacts differently. She contemplates her cows, describing them as one might a human. She considers the possibility of them being harmed by the Germans, and is filled with anger and hatred. The cows are portrayed as innocent, and the Germans as evil. She braves the air raids to deliver vegetables throughout the streets of London, and upon passing through a poor side of town is again filled with anger and hatred towards the Germans. The thought that the Germans would attack people who are already disfourtuned seems unfair to the author. The Germans are clearly portrayed as unfair and evil aggressors. The author discusses pacifism, and compares pacifists to her cats who were oblivious to the war; helpless intellectuals. The author discusses the fact that pacifism will not work against power-hungry maniacs, referring to the Nazis. The British theme of "Keep calm and carry on" is clearly represented in this work, as the author braves air raids and burning buildings in order to continue with her 'normal' daily life.

       Germans and Nazis are portrayed in many ways throughout the literature of the Second World War. Disgust and hatred are clear in some works, while a contrasting portrayal of aggression and sympathy are portrayed in others. In Anne Segher's Transit, she is able to portray different viewpoints of Germans, with foils such as Heinz and Aschelroth clearly showing the importance she places on loyalty and morality and that good and bad is not black and white. The narrator is a German who is disgusted with the Nazi party, providing a clear distinction between Germans and Nazis. Virginia Woolf provides a conflicting portrayal of Germans, clearly labeling them as 'the aggressors', but also able to discuss them simply as men fighting, the same as the Englishmen. Woolf provides a portrayal of the Germans as men with violent urges that need to be properly channeled. In Rebecca West's work, there is a clear portrayal of the Nazis as unfair aggressors, who not only disrupt daily life but also attack innocent cows and unfortunate people.

Tiana Saak, Grundy Center High School, 2017

Essay Prompt: Literature Essay Prompt:  Discuss the many ways that Germans, Nazis or Hitler are portrayed in Transit and at least two of the short selection readings.  Are there common themes that emerge?  Use examples from the readings to support your answer.<BR>

        As works emerging from the World War II era, Anna Seghers's "Transit," Rebecca West's "A Day in Town," and Virginia Woolf's "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" all examine the ways that Nazism has affected life in Europe.  Although each of these women come from different backgrounds - Seghers from Germany and West and Woolf from England - and all have differing political ideologies, they can all agree in some respect that the Nazis are the "bad guys."  Understanding how these authors relate their ideas about the Nazis and Hitler in their works, helps us to understand what living in World War II Europe might have been like.

        Anna Seghers grew up in a bourgeois Jewish family in Germany.  As a young child, she was entranced by fairy tales and stories, and she loved to write.  She attended Heidelberg University, where she began to cultivate some of her socialist and communist ideologies that would lead her to a love of the Soviet Union and Stalin that would exist throughout her entire adult life.  Of course, her intense faith in Communism was paired with a hatred of Fascism and everything that went along with it, including Hitler and the Nazis.  Although she was Jewish, her writing does not focus on the plight of Jews, like many other Jewish writers of her time.  In fact, she might have downplayed her Judaism in an attempt to flush out the bourgeois part of her upbringing that she condemned in her unwavering faith to Communism.  In Transit, she employs a juxtaposition of the mythic method and social realism: two contrasting literary techniques that both give the reader insight into her view of Nazi Germany.  First, in using the mythic method, Seghers compares Hitler to a "big bad wolf," the Nazis to a frightening enchanted forest, and their followers to children bewitched by magic.  This gives the Nazis and Hitler a very negative connotation.  It even goes a further step: Seghers implies that since fairy tales are timeless and hold true over centuries and cultures, if the Nazis were not the oppressors or the dark forest, it would just be some other group.  This leads to a very existential way of thinking that defines much of "Transit."  On the other hand, Seghers wants portray the people and the events in her story as being very real people with real problems.  This is what plays into the social realism genre that she writes in.  The apathetical boredom of the narrator and the absurdity of the bureaucratic institutions in the novel all point to the realness of life.  This scene where refugees are fleeing to Southern France because the Nazis are coming in, where the people have dead babies in theire arms, cows pulling automobiles, and destitute people all show what the Nazis have created in their takeover of France.  They spurred this mass exodus of people, and they created the situation in which these people now live.  The narrator recognizes the absolute horror of this reality, and the anger the reader feels can be directed at the Nazis.

        Rebecca West described herself as a "socialist-feminist," meaning she is a first generation feminist, but also fights for the rights of the people as a whole, not just women.  As a British writer, West believes in national sovereignty and patriotism.  In "A Day in Town," she holds true to the British mantra of "Keep Calm and Carry On," as she heroically delivers vegetables to her sister in London, as if she is striding into battle.  Being patriotic lends to a hatred of the enemy, which West definitely holds.  She appeals to her readers with emotion, speaking of how she fills with anger at the thought of her innocent cows coming under German fire, of how the "rag and bone shop" was destroyed and affecting the destitute, and of how her beautiful Empire Table, that represents the British Empire itself, was demolished.  "A Day in Town" is meant to boost British morale to inspire the common British people to support their men in arms and do what they can to fight for the cause against the evil Nazism.  West shares Seghers idea that Hitler and the Nazis are evil and should be resisted, but she does not share Seghers's idea that Communism is the virtuous alternative.  Instead, West condemns all totalitarianism and pascifist intellectuals, comparing them to her "lazy, ignorant cat."

        Virgina Woolf is one of those pascifist intellectuals that West condemns, as Woolf models in her essay, "Thought on Peace in an Air Raid," where she lies quiety and tries to "think peace into existence."  A stark feminist, her essay reflects ideas that Britain needs to begin a second front of the war: a civil one to gain equal rights for women.  She believes that there is a innate chauvinistic culture that encourages the men to be violent from a young age.  She argues that they grow up with a "Subconscious Hitlerism"  that conditions the young men to oppress women and to be inherently violent.  This similar theme is evoked in Keith Douglas's "How to Kill," where the young man is be taught how to throw a ball with his father, which will teach him how to effectively throw a grenade someday in his future.  She speaks of "the last war," meaning World War I, and how it was a war of patriarchal honor and about war heroes.  This kind of thinking leads her to believe that there is more in common with the German and British fighters because of their shared chauvinism than what separates them based on nationality.  This is the kind of thinking that West would liken to treason, and the reason West condemns the leftist intellectuals.  In fact, Woolf goes on to compare the British and German fighters as two men sawing off the "proverbial branch on which civilization sits," implying that her negative portrayal of the the Nazis, Germans, and Hitler is extended to the British fighters as well.  In this way, Woolf doesn't just see the enemy in the Nazis, but also in the British men in her own society.  It is just like W.H. Auden said, "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our table."

        While each of these women differ in specific portrayals of the Nazis in their writing, they can all agree that the Nazis have negatively impacted the lives of millions of Europeans.  Each of them recognizes the vast cultural changes that arose based on Hitler's rise to power, and each understand that they are an enemy that must be defeated.  Where they differ, however, is in the specifics.  While Seghers holds true to a almost religious fanaticism of Communism, both West and Woolf condemn totalitarianism of all kind.  However, although West and Woolf agree that totalitarianism is evil, they disagree in what the specific problems are.  West sees the problem in an enemy destroying the weak and innocent, while Woolf sees evil in the chauvinistic climate and traditional patriarchal society.  The most common theme, however, is that each of these women writers are addressing something that defined the era they lived in.  Just as Donald Bain explains in "War Poet," these World War II writers must write - not necessarily to moralize, but to grapple with reality.  As Virginia Woolf once said, "You cannot find peace by avoiding life."