The following essay on Lonely Lives was originally published in The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. Emma Goldman. Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914. pp. 88-98.
In Lonely Lives we see the wonderful sympathy, the tenderness of Hauptmann permeating every figure of the drama.
Dr. Vockerat is not a fighter, not a propagantist or a soap-box orator; he is a dreamer, a poet, and above all a searcher for truth; a scientist, a man who lives in the realm of thought and ideas, and is out of touch with reality and his immediate surroundings.
His parents are simple folk, religious and devoted. To them the world is a book with seven seals. Having lived all their life on a farm, everything with them is regulated and classified into simple ideas -- good or bad, great or small, strong or weak. How can they know the infinite shades between strong and weak, how could they grasp the endless variations between the good and the bad? To them life is a daily routine of work and prayer. God has arranged everything, and God manages everything. Why bother your head? Why spend sleepless nights? "Leave it all to God." What pathos in this childish simplicity!
They love their son John, they worship him, and they consecrate their lives to their only boy; and because of their love for him, also to his wife and the newly born baby. They have but one sorrow: their son has turned away from religion. Still greater their grief that John is an admirer of Darwin, Spencer and Haeckel and other such men -- sinners, heathens all, who will burn in purgatory and hell. To protect their beloved son from the punishment of God, the old folks continuously pray, and give still more devotion and love to their erring child.
Kitty, Dr. Vockerat's wife, is a beautiful type of the Gretchen, reared without any ideas about life, without any consciousness of her position in the world, a tender, helpless flower. She loves John; he is her ideal; he is her all. But she cannot understand him. She does not live in his sphere, nor speak his language. She has never dreamed his thoughts -- not because she is not willing or not eager to give the man all that he needs, but because she does not understand and does not know how.
Into this atmosphere comes Anna Mahr like a breeze from the plains. Anna is a Russian girl, a woman so far produced in Russia only, perhaps because the conditions, the life struggles of that country have been such as to develop a different type of woman. Anna Mahr has spent most of her life on the firing line. She has no conception of the personal: she is universal in her feelings and thoughts, with deep sympathies going out in abundance to all mankind.
When she comes to the Vockerats, their whole life is disturbed, especially that of John Vockerat, to whom she is like a balmy spring to the parched wanderer in the desert. She understands him, for has she not dreamed such thoughts as his, associated with men and women who, for the sake of the ideal, sacrificed their lives, when to Siberia, and suffered in the underground dungeons? How then could she fail a Vockerat? It is quite natural that John should find in Anna what his own little world could not give him -- understanding, comradeship, deep spiritual kinship.
The Anna Mahrs give the same to any one, be it man, woman, or child. For theirs is not a feeling of sex, of the personal; it is the selfless, the human, the all-embracing fellowship.
In the invigorating presence of Anna Mahr, John Vockerat begins to live, to dream and work. Another phase of him, as it were, comes into being; larger vistas open before his eyes, and his life is filled with new aspiration for creative work in behalf of a liberating purpose.
Alas, the inevitability that the ideal should be besmirched and desecrated when it comes in contact with sordid reality! This tragic fate befalls Anna Mahr and John Vockerat.
Old Mother Vockerat, who, in her simplicity of soul cannot conceive of an intimate friendship between a man and a woman, unless they be husband and wife, begins first to suspect and insinuate, then to nag and interfere. Of course, it is her love for John, and even more so her love for her son's wife, who is suffering in silence and wearing out her soul in her realization of how little she can mean to her husband.
Mother Vockerat interprets Kitty's grief in a different manner: jealousy, and antagonism to the successful rival is her most convenient explanation for the loneliness, the heart-hunger of love. But as a matter of fact, it is something deeper and more vital that is born in Kitty's soul. It is the awakening of her own womanhood, of her personality.
KITTY: I agree with Miss Mahr on many points. She was saying lately that we women live in a condition of degradation. I think she is quite right there. It is what I feel very often.... It's as clear as daylight that she is right. We are really and truly a despised and ill-used sex. Only think that there is still a law -- so she told me yesterday -- which allows the husband to inflict a moderate amount of corporal punishment on his wife.
And yet, corporal punishment is not half as terrible as the punishment society inflicts on the Kittys by rearing them as dependent and useless beings, as hot-house flowers, ornaments for a fine house, but of no substance to the husband and certainly of less to her children.
And Mother Vockerat, without any viciousness, instills poison into the innocent soul of Kitty and embitters the life of her loved son. Ignorantly, Mother Vockerat meddles, interferes, and tramples upon the most sacred feelings, the innocent joys of true comradeship.
And all the time John and Anna are quite unaware of the pain and tragedy they are the cause of: they are far removed from the commonplace, petty world about them. They walk and discuss, read and argue about the wonders of life, the needs of humanity, the beauty of the ideal. They have both been famished so long: John for spiritual communion, Anna for warmth of home that she had known so little before, and which in her simplicity she has accepted at the hand of Mother Vockerat and Kitty, oblivious of the fact that nothing is so enslaving as hospitality prompted by a sense of duty.
- MISS MAHR: It is a great age that we live in. That which has so weighed upon people's minds and darkened their lives seems to me to be gradually disappearing. Do you not think so, Dr. Vockerat?
- JOHN: How do you mean?
- MISS MAHR: On the one hand we were oppressed by a sense of uncertainty, of apprehension, on the other by gloomy fanaticism. This exaggerated tension is calming down, is yielding to the influence of something like a current of fresh air, that is blowing in upon us from -- let us say from the twentieth century.
- JOHN: But I don't find it possible to arrive at any real joy in life yet. I don't know....
- MISS MAHR: It has no connection with our individual fates -- our little fates, Dr. Vockerat!... I have something to say to you -- but you are not to get angry; you are to be quite quiet and good.... Dr. Vockerat! we also are falling into the error of weak natures. We must look at things more impersonally. We must learn to take ourselves less seriously.
- JOHN: But we'll not talk about that at present.... And is one really to sacrifice everything that one has gained to this cursed conventionality? Are people incapable of understanding that there can be no crime in a situation which only tends to make both parties better and nobler? Do parents lose by their son becoming a better, wiser man? Does a wife lose by the spiritual growth of her husband?
- MISS MAHR: You are both right and wrong.... Your parents have a different standard from you. Kitty's again, differs from theirs. It seems to me that in this we cannot judge for them.
- JOHN: Yes, but you have always said yourself that one should not allow one's self to be ruled by the opinion of others -- that one ought to be independent?
- MISS MAHR: You have often said to me that you foresee a new, a nobler state of fellowship between man and woman.
- JOHN: Yes, I feel that it will come some time -- a relationship in which the human will preponderate over the animal tie. Animal will no longer be united to animal, but one human being to another. Friendship is the foundation on which this love will rise, beautiful, unchangeable, a miraculous structure. And I foresee more than this -- something nobler, richer, freer still.
- MISS MAHR: But will you get anyone, except me, to believe this? Will this prevent Kitty's grieving herself to death?... Don't let us speak of ourselves at all. Let us suppose, quite generally, the feeling of a new, more perfect relationship between two people to exist, as it were prophetically. It is only a feeling, a young and all too tender plant which must be carefully watched and guarded. Don't you think so, Dr. Vockerat? That this plant should come to perfection during our lifetime is not to be expected. We shall not see or taste its fruits. But we may help to propagate it for future generations. I could imagine a person accepting this as a life-task.
- JOHN: And hence you conclude that we must part.
- MISS MAHR: I did not mean to speak of ourselves. But it is as you say ... we must part. Another idea ... had sometimes suggested itself to me too ... momentarily. But I could not entertain it now. I too have felt as if it were the presentiment of better things. And since then the old aim seems to me too poor a one for us -- too common, to tell the truth. It is like coming down the mountain-top with its wide, free view, and feeling the narrowness, the nearness of everything in the valley.
Thos who feel the narrow, stifling atmosphere must either die or leave. Anna Mahr is not made for the valley. She must live in the heights. But John Vockerat, harassed and whipped on by those who love him most, is unmanned, broken and crushed. He clings to Anna Mahr as one condemned to death.
- JOHN: Help me, Miss Anna! There is no manliness, no pride left in me. I am quite changed. At this moment I am not even the man I was before you came to us. The one feeling left in me is disgust and weariness of life. Everything has lost its worth to me, is soiled, polluted, desecrated, dragged through the mire. When I think what you, your presence, your words made me, I feel that if I cannot be that again, then -- then all the rest no longer means anything to me. I draw the line through it all and -- close my account.
- MISS MAHR: It grieves me terribly, Dr. Vockerat, to see you like this. I hardly know how I am to help you. But one thing you ought to remember -- that we foresaw this. We knew that we must be prepared for this sooner or later.
- JOHN: Our prophetic feeling of a new, a free existence, a far-off state of blessedness -- that feeling we will keep. It shall never be forgotten, though it may never be realized. It shall be my guiding light; when this light is extinguished, my life will be extinguished too.
- MISS MAHR: John! one word more! This ring -- was taken from the finger of a dead woman, who had followed her -- her husband to Siberia -- and faithfully shared his suffering to the end. Just the opposite to our case.... It is the only ring I have ever worn. Its story is a thing to think of when one feels weak. And when you look at it -- in hours of weakness -- then -- think of her -- who, far away -- lonely like yourself -- is fighting the same secret fate -- Good-bye!
But John lacks the strength for the fight. Life to him is too lonely, too empty, too unbearably desolate. He has to die -- a suicide.
What wonderful grasp of the deepest and most hidden tones of the human soul! What a significance in the bitter truth that those who struggle for an ideal, those who attempt to cut themselves loose from the old, from the thousand fetters that hold them down, are doomed to lonely lives!
Gerhart Hauptmann has dedicated this play "to those who have lived this life." And there are many, oh, so many who must live this life, torn out root and all from the soil of their birth, of their surroundings and past. The ideal they see only in the distance -- sometimes quite near, again in the far-off distance. These are the lonely lives.
This drama also emphasizes the important point that not only the parents and the wife of John Vockerat fail to understand him, but even his own comrade, one of his own world, the painter Braun -- the type of fanatical revolutionist who scorns human weaknesses and ridicules those who make concessions and compromises. But not even this arch-revolutionist can grasp the needs of John. Referring to his chum's friendship with Anna, Braun upbraids him. He charges John with causing his wife's unhappiness and hurting the feelings of his parents. This very man who, as a propagandist, demands that every one live up to his ideal, is quick to condemn his friend when the latter, for the first time in his life, tries to be consistent, to be true to his own innermost being.
The revolutionary, the social and human significance of Lonely Lives consists in the lesson that the real revolutionist -- the dreamer, the creative artist, the iconoclast in whatever line -- is fated to be misunderstood, not only by his own kin, but often by his own comrades. That is the doom of all great spirits: they are detached from their environment. Theirs is a lonely life -- the life of the transition stage, the hardest and the most difficult period for the individual as well as for a people.
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