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Condemned of Altona


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AT: Loser Wins; Altona A: Jean-Paul Sartre Pf: 1959, Paris Pb: 1960 Tr: 1960 G: Drama in 5 acts; French prose S: Von Gerlach's home, Altona, Hamburg, Germany, 1959 C: 7m, 3fVon Gerlach, ‘the Father’, a prosperous German shipbuilder, dying of throat cancer, insists that his son Werner take over the family home and business. However, Werner's wife Johanna first wants to know about the older son Frantz, who since 1946 has confined himself to a windowless room upstairs. Frantz's story is told in flashbacks. When his father sold the Nazis some land for a concentration camp, the horrified Frantz sheltered a Polish rabbi, who was later seized and brutally murdered. While fighting on the Eastern Front Frantz tortured and executed some Russian peasants. Returning to a defeated and destroyed Germany, Frantz attacked an American officer who was attempting to rape his beloved sister Leni. Frantz now keeps to his room, cared for by Leni, with whom he has an incestuous relationship. Father sends Johanna to him to tell him of his imminent death and of his desire to see his favourite son. Frantz, on the verge of insanity, is defending himself before an imaginary ‘Tribunal of Crabs’, and is dismayed to learn that Germany, far from suffering in misery for its crimes, has become prosperous once more. Explaining to his father that his atrocity in Russia was the one time he acted freely, Frantz expiates his guilt by killing himself and his father in a car crash. Leni will now occupy Frantz's room, while Johanna and her husband leave for an uncertain future.

AT: Loser Wins; Altona A: Jean-Paul Sartre Pf: 1959, Paris Pb: 1960 Tr: 1960 G: Drama in 5 acts; French prose S: Von Gerlach's home, Altona, Hamburg, Germany, 1959 C: 7m, 3f

Not since Aeschylus' Persians has a playwright entered so successfully into the psyche of a defeated enemy. And as with Aeschylus, the purpose is not merely to recreate history but to offer a warning, in Sartre's case about the Algerian War. Beyond this immediate political relevance, Sartre also explores the century's communal guilt about the atrocities it has witnessed.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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