Bertolt Brecht and the United States
Differding, Virginia M. (Student of history)
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This thesis discusses the life and work of German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht. It is concerned primarily with various aspects regarding the interaction between Brecht's experiences in Germany and his life in the United States: Brecht's interest in the United States in the 1920s; the formative effect that a study of its political economy had on his political and aesthetic development; and the personal, professional, and political activities he engaged in while living in this country as a refugee during the 1940s. It was Brecht's fascination with the United States that motivated him in the 1920s to choose it as a setting for several of his plays, although at that point Brecht's only knowledge of this country came from books, newspapers, and films. In the process of writing a play about the Chicago Wheat Exchange, Brecht, puzzled by his subject, was led to a study of political economy. In reading the works of Marx and Lenin on capitalism, Brecht revised his early idealistic views on the United States and saw it instead as a decaying society. Brecht became a Marxist and thereafter, through his plays, worked to point out the flaws and injustices he perceived in the capitalist system. The impact of Brecht's interest and study of the United States on his development of dialectical theater is a frequently neglected area of his development as a playwright. Brecht left Germany in 1933 and spent the next fifteen years of his life in exile. He briefly visited the United States in 1935 to supervise the Theatre Union staging of his play, The Mother. Despite his negative impressions of American leftwing theater he decided to emigrate to this country as Europe became an increasingly unsafe refuge for him. Brecht arrived in July 1941 and remained until October 1947. In the intervening years Brecht pursued a complex pattern of activity: travelling from Hollywood to New York geographically; from general obscurity to one brief New York play run; and from the absurd mechanics required of a Marxian playwright trying to survive financially on the Gold Coast to a few truly creative encounters with fellow artists. In the beginning, Brecht tried to find work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Though not very successful with this type of work, he earned enough money to pursue his own projects, such as the writing of the plays, Schweyk in the Second World War, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and a revision of his earlier play, Life of Galileo. Brecht also participated in the founding of the Council for a Democratic Germany, an organization dedicated to the rebuilding of a democratic and socialist Germany after the war. To a lesser extent, he involved himself in the activities of the Tribune for Free German Literature and Art; the meetings of the exiled Frankfurt Institute for Social Research; and the establishing of Aurora Verlag, a publishing house intended to print works for the "new Germany." After Brecht was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 he returned to Europe, settling finally in East Germany in 1949. My research indicates that in his political thought Brecht was neither a dilettante leftist or a hardline Stalinist, as many works on him would seen to suggest. Also, I have found that his political activities in the United States, a subject generally overlooked or underemphasized in the existing scholarship, were far broader than previously thought. With the 1974 publication of Brecht's Arbeitsjournal (working journal) for this period and the availability of Brecht's F.B.I. dossier, it is new possible to present a fuller picture of Brecht's personal, professional, and political life from 1941 to 1947, and it is hoped that this study will contribute towards that end.