Summer of My German Soldier: Chapters 16-21
It is now fall in Chapter Sixteen and Patty notes that her father has been treating her slightly differently. It is as though he respects the point that he cannot destroy her. By contrast, her mother is still making ‘the same little hit-the-victim-and-run comments’ and makes remarks about how she has fewer friends than Edna Louise. Patty dreams of when she will be 18 and will be able to leave home; she imagines visiting Anton. Her father interrupts her reveries and calls to say he is coming home. Patty talks to Ruth before he arrives and drops her ring into Ruth’s apron pocket. Her father arrives with men from the FBI and after another altercation with Patty he comes close to complimenting her for being intelligent.
Pierce then begins questioning Patty about school and asks about her friends. He then questions her about the tramp she claims to have helped and shows her a photograph of Anton. He asks if this is the man and she says it does not look like him. Pierce then shows her the shirt she gave Anton and asks if she recognizes it. She says she is not sure, but he tells her that her father has already identified it as a present she gave him. She notices there is a hole in the shirt with blood around it and screams. She demands to know if they hurt ‘him’. Pierce smiles a little and shows her a piece of paper which explains that Anton was shot whilst trying to avoid arrest: he is dead. She calls him a murderer and scratches his face.
Chapter Seventeen begins with the explanation that Patty’s father wants her to have a lawyer from Memphis. He also comes to her room to ask why she helped the soldier. She says it is because he was good to her. Her father calls her ‘filth’ again and asks if he touched her. She tells him this is untrue and says he was a better man than he. Her father’s anger continues when he demands to know how she could possibly compare him to a Nazi. He also says she has brought him nothing but misery from the day she was born. Ruth enters the room in order to defend Patty, but her father fires her and blames her for Patty’s ‘meanness’.
In Chapter Eighteen, Pierce comes into her room again and says they are ready to take her to Memphis. She packs her case mechanically and walks with the FBI men on to Main Street. She is spat at and called a ‘Jew Nazi’, and a ‘Jew-Nazi lover’ by the minister’s wife (Mrs Benn). The sheriff clears the crowd and gives Patty a bible for comfort.
The narrative shifts to the next morning at her grandparents’ house. Her grandmother is kind towards her and lets her know a friend, Charlene Madlee, is calling to see her that night.
Patty has to repeat her story to the FBI several times and is allowed to leave their office at 4 pm. They tell her to remain in Memphis as her parents are being harassed in Jenkinsville. When Charlene visits, she lets Patty know she will not be prosecuted for treason. She agrees with Patty’s grandfather when he argues that anti-Semitism is behind this ‘hullabaloo’, but she also says some have taken the opportunity to see ‘love and brotherhood in this story’ because a Jewish girl has befriended a German soldier. The chapter ends with Charlene’s warning that although Patty will not be charged with treason, she may still be sent to reformatory school on a lesser charge.
Chapter Nineteen begins with Patty being driven by Mr. Calvin Grimes. The court case has taken place and Patty is now being taken to reformatory school for four to six months. She was called a traitor in court, but still disputes this. Her lawyer, Kishner, had not wanted to take her case and when he finally did, he asked her to say that she had not realized that Anton was an escaped prisoner. Patty refused to do this as she says she would rather be seen as a traitor than be thought of as stupid.
Since Anton’s death, Patty finds it difficult to be hopeful and this now makes her wary of asking questions. When they arrive at the school, she notices the windows are all covered with heavy wire screening and compares this to the Memphis Zoo.
In Chapter Twenty, Patty wakes up in her ‘school’ on her 32nd morning there. She has learned to wake up half an hour before the bell so that she is able to have some time to herself. She tries to make plans for the future and remembers the $1,000 war bond her grandparents bought for her. She imagines visiting Anton’s family when she is 18 and telling his mother how she helped him. The bell rings and spoils her vision. Her room-mate wakes up and calls her Natz (short for Nazi) and it transpires the other girls insult her with worse terms.
After eating breakfast and visiting the day-room, Patty returns to her room and sees the Commercial Appeal on her bed. She remembers how Charlene was the only reporter to show her any kindness at the trial. She has also kept in touch since and has given Patty the gift of a subscription to the newspaper.
Miss Laud, the head matron, then enters and informs her she has a visitor (Ruth). When Patty and Ruth hug, Patty feels as though she is ‘newly born’. Ruth has brought her food and after Patty asks about her mother, and why she has not come to see her, she questions Ruth as to why people hate her. She reassures her and reminds her that she loves her and so did Anton. She tells Patty that her parents are ‘irregular seconds’ and she has been paying ‘top dollar’ for them. Ruth gives her Anton’s ring, and Patty is relieved as she had come to believe she had actually lost it as she told the FBI men. This chapter ends with Patty beginning to feel as though she is a good person.
The final chapter begins with Ruth advising Patty to receive an education and go on to college when she is older. Patty tells her she has decided to be a reporter and has chosen the nom de plume of Antonia Alexander. She has taken Antonia from Anton, and the Alexander is for alliteration. She wants to write about the conditions in the reformatory and Charlene has already told her that if her article is good enough, they will run it the in Arkansas edition of her newspaper.
Miss Laud appears to inform them that visiting time is over and Patty is greatly upset. This is partly because Ruth is the only visitor she has received. Miss Laud becomes vicious when Patty asks if Ruth can stay a little longer; she calls her greedy, and says she only likes ‘Nigras and Nazis’. Other matrons rush in to separate Patty from Ruth, as she is clinging to her as though she is a life raft. The matrons leave them alone for a few moments, however, when Ruth admonishes them.
As Ruth leaves, Patty describes the event as watching her ‘very own life raft floating away towards the open sea’. The novel ends with Ruth closing the door behind her and the watery metaphor is extended when she realizes that she must now swim for land herself. She wonders if it is possible for a ‘beginner swimmer’ to swim to shore, but decides to find out even if it takes her a lifetime.
After the rejection of her family, the death of Anton and imprisonment at reformatory school, the novel ends on a relatively high note. As Ruth leaves, it is as though Patty finds a new maturity as she recognizes her need for independence. Throughout the novel she has been rejected and disappointed by her parents and this has culminated in their unexplored decision not to visit her. When Patty decides to swim for shore alone, she is consciously choosing to separate herself from those who have continuously let her down.
On the surface, Patty may be seen as a lonely, isolated girl. The close of the novel reminds her and the readers, however, that her friendships (with Ruth and Anton) have been genuine and heartfelt. Because of this, it is possible to interpret Summer of My German Soldier as one that condemns prejudice and racism and promotes the concept of authentic friendship and love. Superficial concerns, such as vanity, are ridiculed through the descriptions of Patty’s mother and it is love that finally wins out.