Woyzeck By George Buchner Essay

A commentator has remarked, ? Clearly Buchner considered that while social
revolution might help the Woyzeck’s of the world, it could hardly save
them?. Is Buchner’s vision of the world of Woyzeck essentially fatalistic, a
dystopia from which there is no escape? George Buchner’s classic play ?Woyzeck?,
unfinished, yet ahead of its time, has only this past century achieved notoriety
for its visionary script and modernity. Buchner, a young radical of his time,
intended this work to act as a social protest against the oppression and
conditions of the impoverished. The work shows its audience the extreme
tragedies that befall those trapped in poverty, those who have lost all hope,
and therefore become acquiescent to their environment, which in turn furthers
their hardship. Despite the main characters’ pleas for aid, and or spiritual
intervention, they are trapped in their situations. Buchner offers no hope to
them of any kind for redemption or salvation. Poverty is presented as a vicious
cycle, one that destroys everything in its path. The obvious apocalyptic
language and visions that Buchner employs in the play all stress the pessimism
surrounding the characters, and the fatalistic and dystopic environment in which
they are forced to survive. Woyzeck, the central protagonist, and his common law
wife Marie, are left to the mercy of their society and manipulated by those
around them. Characters like the Doctor, Captain, and Drum Major contribute to
Woyzeck’s downfall, and the subsequent murder of Marie: the Doctor treats
Woyzeck like an animal and is completely unconnected to his reality, the Captain
tries in vain to morally reform Woyzeck, a man whose hunger is first and
foremost on his mind and not the condition of his morality, and finally, the
Drum Major humiliates Woyzeck by seducing his wife, and later assaults him in
front of his peers. All three men cannot possibly understand Woyzeck’s state
of mind and situation, and disregard him in all his pain and suffering. They
mock his humanity, and ignore him when he asks for answers to the questions that
might have eased his troubled and irrational mind. The Captain plants the
jealous seed of doubt and anger surrounding Marie’s infidelity in Woyzeck’s
mind. The effect of this would not have been so successful if Woyzeck had not
been already so desperate, destitute, and verging on madness. Woyzeck explains
his dire existence to the Captain in scene one of the play: Woyzeck: ?When
you’re poor like us, sir?It’s the money, the money! If you haven’t got
the money? I mean you can’t bring the likes of us into the world on decency.

We’re flesh and blood too. Our kind doesn’t get a chance in this world or
the next. If we go to heaven they’ll put us to work on the thunder? (Pp.108)
Here one sees that Woyzeck believes that even if he made it to the eternal
paradise of heaven, his suffering would still continue, as he would be made to
work on the thunder along with the rest of the poor. Woyzeck perceives no
glimpse of a better life or future for his family, and accepts his fate to live
as a slave to others. He allows the Doctor to perform weird and degrading
experiments on him, such as placing him on a strict diet of only peas for three
months, and he allows himself to be berated for relieving himself in the street.

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Woyzeck does all this just so he can earn a few measly dollars to support Marie
and their child. There is no utopic blueprint in this play. Buchner does not
create a new model for humanity, or for how poverty should be dealt with, he
just shows it to us in all of its anguish. Woyzeck’s only escape from his
pathetic life is his love for Marie. She is the only thing that he loves, and
cherishes. Her affair with the Drum Major drives Woyzeck into insanity, and he
ends up killing Marie, the only thing that kept him sane. Woyzeck says
concerning self-control, that the poor can’t possibly do anything but obey
nature’s call, much like the horse displayed at the fair: Man in his
unidealized state. Woyzeck: ?Oh, self-control. I’m not very strong on that,
sir. You see, the likes of us just don’t have any self-control. I mean, we
obey nature’s call. But if I were a gentleman and had a hat and a watch and a
topcoat and could talk proper, then I’d have self-control all right. Must be a
fine thing, self-control. But I’m a poor man.? (Pp.108) Marie is the victim
of a lust she cannot control. She loves her husband but she is plagued by her
passions for the Drum Major and the perks that come with it, like gold earrings
and a red necklace. When the Drum Major approaches Marie, at first she resists,
but then she just gives into her appetites because in her mind nothing can make
life worse than it is at present. Drum Major: ?And you’re what I call a
woman. Christ, we’ll set up a stud for drum majors. Marie: Let me go Drum
Major: Wildcat Marie [violently]: Don’t touch me! Drum Major: The very
devil’s in your eyes. Marie: Oh, what does it matter? It’s all one. Marie
knows she will be punished for her sins. She cries out to God for help, to
absolve her of her indiscretions like Jesus did with the biblical adulteress.

The only problem is she cannot truly repent of her affair as she enjoyed it too
much. Marie: [turning pages of bible]? ?Nor was guile found in his mouth.’
Dear God, don’t look at me. ?And the scribes and the Pharisees brought him a
woman taken in adultery and set her in the midst?And Jesus said unto her:
Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.’ Dear God, I can’t. Almighty
God, at least give me the strength to pray?’And stood at his feet weeping,
and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her
head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment.’ Everything is
dead. O Christ my savior, if only I could anoint thy feet.? (Pp.126-127)
Marie’s prayer does her no good, as soon after this passage Woyzeck brutally
murders her and leaves her body by the pond outside town. Here again, Buchner
offers nothing but a dystopic and brutal end for this woman, a victim of her own
birth into poverty and the society that broke her spirit. There is no freedom
from her suffering, there is no way out. Marie’s despair is most profound in
the play, and the pity for her character is strong, as with Woyzeck. Marie says:
?I’m a bad bitch. I could kill myself. ? Oh, what’s the use? We’re all
going to the devil, all of us.? (Pp.114) Marie too, like Woyzeck had accepted
her fate. She has allowed herself to acquiesce to society around her. She is no
longer responsible for he own actions as she accepts she will be going to Hell.

She does not care any more because nothing has given her hope to do so. Woyzeck
and Marie have fallen as far as they are going too, their lives and personas are
Woyzeck says: ??bottomless pits: you get dizzy when you look down?(pp.120)
Marie and Woyzeck’s child is another innocent victim caught in the middle of
everything. Woyzeck seems to not really know his son as he is always out and
doing things. Marie too, displays a torrid relationship with her child, and she
spouts out language such as: ?You’re only a whore’s brat but I love your
bastard’s face.? (Pp.110), and she frightens him with stories of
child-thieving gypsy’s and bogeyman’s to make him ?sleep?. The young
child unfortunately will also be caught in the cycle, and probably grow up to
become another Woyzeck, orphaned and stuck under the boots of everyone else.

This child’s destiny and end are shown as the conclusion for the in the
operatic adapt ion of this play, Wozzeck by Alan Berg. Woyzeck falls into
insanity over Marie. When he is told of her dalliances with the Drum Major he
replies, Woyzeck: ?I’m a poor man Captain. She’s all I’ve got in the
world. If you’re joking Captain?? Captain: Joking? I joke with you?
Doctor: Your pulse Woyzeck. Your pulse. Short, violent, skipping, and irregular.

Woyzeck: Captain, the earth’s as hot as hell. But I’m icy cold. Hell is
cold, I’d bet on that. It can’t be true. The bitch. It can’t be? A fine
day Captain, Look. A nice solid gray sky. Makes you want to knock a nail in and
hand yourself. All because of one little train of thought.?(Pp118-119) The
other two men, besides Woyzeck are heartless and cruel to him. The Doctor
rambles on about his medical condition, totally disregarding his feelings, and
the captain teases him about his wife’s lover. As in this passage, one can
find many examples of apocalyptic language about hell and heaven, and the world
ending. On Page 109, Woyzeck comments that the sky is on fire, and believes
voices are speaking to him out of the ground. Woyzeck later recounts this
experience to Marie quoting the Bible, ? ?And behold there was a smoke
coming from the land like the smoke of an oven’?? This idea is again
depicted when Woyzeck is about to stab Marie. Marie comments that the moon is
rising red (the color of blood) and Woyzeck says it is like blood on an iron. It
is at this moment that Marie realizes something terrible is about to happen, and
senses her own death. Woyzeck’s wading deeper, and deeper into the water is
another symbolic element of his further descent into the bottomless pit. Perhaps
the most haunting passage out of this entire play, is one in which the little
children ask a Grandmother to tell them a story, her idea of a fairytale is the
most despondent, apocalyptic tragedy one could recount: ?Once upon a time
there was a poor little boy who had no father or mother. Everything was dead,
and there was nobody left in the whole wide world. Everything was dead, and he
went away and searched day and night. And because there was nobody left he
thought he’d go up to heaven. And the moon looked at him so kindly! But when
he reached {it}?he found it was a piece of rotten wood. And then he went to
the sun?and found it was a withered sunflower?and he wanted to go back to
earth, but the earth was an upturned pot. And he was all alone. And he sat down
and cried, and he’s sitting there still, all alone? (pp128) These are the
kind of ?fairytales? the children are exposed to and nothing can be bleaker.

Buchner does not even let the children escape either, they are doomed along with
their parents, and the apocalyptic and dystopic way in which the world is
presented compounds these ideas, suggesting an even worse future for them than
the one we have just seen. Buchner was a young man at the time of his death,
only twenty-three, yet he managed to leave a legacy behind him, on that has been
highly acclaimed in modern times. Woyzeck was to be a ?working ? class
tragedy?, a slice out of real life. His protagonist, Woyzeck, is a man doomed
to a pitiful existence, constantly plagued with questions that will never be
answered. He has a psychosis in which he hallucinates, and this furthers his
urge to murder his wife. Woyzeck is forced to deal with daily humiliation. This
play is a tragedy, as there is no hope for Woyzeck. The murder of Marie forever
breaks his lifeline; he is lost in the abyss around himself. He falls deeper and
deeper into madness. He is a murderer, but he is also a victim of his society,
as with his wife. The very construction of the play’s elements, the folk
songs, the religious and secular language, all play a part in the overall dark
motif that the play projects onto the viewer. Buchner wanted to portray real
life, with very human characters, and his view is that society is to blame for
all evils, that the world is essentially going to the dogs for these people, in
a never-ending cycle of torment and affliction. Buchner also allows the reader
no hope to fix this situation, as unfortunately the play was never finished and
one shall never know, or feel, the complete conclusion and resolution of?


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