Summer of My German Soldier: Essay Q&A
1. Describe the reasons why Patty feels isolated.
Patty’s sense of isolation is mainly brought about by her estrangement from her parents. To a certain extent, this is typical of a 12-year-old coming-of-age account as her parents commit the clichéd crime of not understanding her. However, Patty’s record of her mother’s caustic insults and her father’s violence lend the readers to understand that her unhappiness is tied up with rejection, fear and feeling unloved.
Patty is also an outcast as hers is the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. Her unlikely and illicit friendship with Freddy Dowd is founded on their mutual lack of status.
It is also evident that Patty does not conform to the role prescribed for her. As a girl, she is expected to dress in a feminine way and is supposed to enjoy taking care of her appearance. Instead, she prefers to read the dictionary as she attempts to learn the meaning of all words. Because she refuses to conform to the stereotype of femininity, she is secluded from her sister and mother and other potential female friends. 2. Examine Patty’s father and his relationship with her.
As the first-person narrator, Patty only gives glimpses of her father, Harry Bergen. Her perspective is true to that of a 12-year-old, therefore, little understanding is offered as to why her father feels unloved, or why he is so brutal to her for minor infringements of his rules.
Only a few details are given about him, including his isolation from the community as the only Jewish man in the area. He is also evidently quick-tempered. Perhaps the most telling detail is revealed by Anton when he explains to Patty that he heard her father repeatedly saying to himself that nobody loves him.
3. Consider why Patty becomes friends with Anton, the German soldier.
Ostensibly, Patty becomes friends with Anton as a way to stave off her loneliness. There is also a demonstration that she has a desire to be kind to someone in need. Further to this, he is described as intelligent and empathic (as is Ruth) and because of this they both refuse to criticize Patty negatively.
For the purposes of the plot, Patty’s friendship with Anton is also a means to demonstrate that conflict need not arise through the actions of others. Their respective countries are fighting a war against each other, but the novel appears to argue that it is possible to overcome such antagonisms.
It perhaps goes without saying that their friendship would not be possible if Anton believed in the tenets of Nazism, as Patty is Jewish. Because he has refused to follow their ideology, it is made possible for the novel to highlight the view that individuals should be accountable for their actions (as in the case of Patty’s father) rather than for the domestic and foreign policies of their country. 4. Analyze the parallels made between Nazism in Germany and racism in the United States.
This contentious parallel is drawn most clearly in Chapter Twelve when Ruth tells Anton that there are also ‘bad hearts’ in America. She describes how a respected and wealthy member of the community stole from her mother and that her son was drafted to fight for ‘his’ country. This novel stops short of an outright condemnation of the United States and how it is selective in the times it desires its African-American citizens to have a sense of belonging to the nation, but it is perhaps strong enough to be understood.
There are several instances of outright and outrageous instances of racism in Jenkinsville, which demonstrate the hypocrisy of the white inhabitants and also show the dangers of patriotic thinking. The rise of nationalism in Germany did not have a counterpart in the United States, but Greene cleverly points out how the racist, white-centred patriotism in Patty’s home town has a parallel with National Socialism in Germany.
There is a danger in this work, though, that because Greene seems keen to point out the inherent pleasantness of Anton (and his non-Nazi background) very little space is given over to explain the extent of Nazi atrocities. Admittedly, all of the details of genocide did not come out fully until after the war, but enough was know about the holocaust to be inserted in the novel for the sake of authenticity.
5. In what ways is prejudice challenged in this novel?
The main challenge to prejudicial thinking comes with the use of Patty as a first-person narrator. She is largely critical of racism and bullying, although she too occasionally exposes judgemental aspects of her own character. When critical of unfair treatment, however, her voice offers an innocent view of human relationships. Because she seeks friendship rather than conflict, she is seen to able to look past the prejudice to become friends with Anton and, of course, Ruth.
It is possible to argue that although Patty describes Ruth as a friend and clearly sees her as a form of a surrogate mother, the novel comes extremely close to conforming to prejudices even whilst challenging them. In such a society where racism is so entrenched, the reciprocal relationship between Patty and Ruth is a somewhat naïve concept and is certainly described from the dominant perspective (that is, from a white person’s point of view). Ruth’s loyalty to Patty comes dangerously close to performing the same stereotype that the novel purports to challenge as Ruth ‘mothers’ the rich white girl with little or no thanks.