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The Younger Generation in Brecht's Dramatic Work
Doctoral Committee Chair(s)
Department of Study
Degree Granting Institution
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
While it is well-known that Bertolt Brecht made substantial contributions to "Children's Literature" and that young characters appear frequently in his literary oeuvre, it has not been sufficiently noticed that major conflicts in Brecht's dramatic work, commonly identified as class conflict, develop along generational lines. It is the purpose of this study to trace such generational constellations through several stages of Brecht's creative development, and to discuss recurrences, variations, and shifts in his portrayal of youthful figures, their circumstances, their plights, and their prospects.
Brecht's earliest plays show the confusion and anger of a generation of young people under siege by the institutions and representatives of their fathers' order. Conspicuous aspects of youth--innocence, naivete, vitality, and idealism--are subject to abuse by the established brokers of society's power, who secure their own prosperity even by exploiting the young. This experience unleashes feelings of helplessness, despair, and revolt among the victimized, who respond either with compliance or with selfishness and the rejection of the fathers' order.
In the works of Brecht's Berlin years, generational issues reach a new intensity and a turning point, conveying the author's perception of social deterioration as well as a program for change. Now, clearly, the exploitation of youth is a natural consequence of capitalism, the culprit of all social woes. Brecht offers youth socialist lessons to help break the cycle of abuse at the hands of the fathers. At the same time he demonstrates that not only solidarity among the young but also cooperation between the generations is critical to bring about the needed change in society.
The great plays of Brecht's exile period further elaborate the roles of youthful characters and children ranging between social victims and utopian savior figures. Dialectical teacher-student relationships, contrasting mother-child relationships, a naive, childlike resistance fighter, and a saved "savior" child (of multiple parentage), all attach increased significance to the young as the hope for society's renewal.