Nightwood and Ordinary Men

Ordinary Men, by Christopher Browning, tells the story of middle-aged men from Germany who carried out the genocide during the Holocaust. Despite their seemingly cold and careless hearts, most of the men were not in favor their situation, but rather greatly disturbed by it. Some even asked to be relieved from their posts at times because they could not bear to continue on with their gruesome tasks. One of the only positive aspects of their roles was that the Germans did not have to worry about their families, for they were the ones behind the guns. Unfortunately, many Jewish families of the time faced the disheartening realization that their lineages would not likely survive the Holocaust.

The feeling of helplessness for all future generations is something that no man wants to fathom as the outcome of his own lineage. This is seen in Nightwood when Felix is concerned about the end of his family line once him and Guido die. “When the Tree Falls”, one of the chapters of Nightwood, is centered around Felix’s conversation with the Doctor. It is obvious that Felix is worried that his name will not be carried on to any future generations if Guido’s illness worsens. The chapter title can be related to the concept that “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?”. In class, the title was discussed with regard to its relation to the Holocaust and the idea that many family trees were falling in this time period. Nightwood was written by Djuna Barnes in 1936, amidst the mounting power of Hitler and the first stages of the ensuing mass genocide. This common phrase can be associated with Felix’s situation because of Felix’s concentrated family tree that ultimately curves back in on itself. Numerous family lineages were completely wiped out during this genocide. Records of the people murdered during the Holocaust were seldom kept. Because of this, many mothers and fathers worried that the lack of any record would result in no “sound” being made when their families were chopped down. For Felix and so many families during the Holocaust, a lack of a surviving family member meant that the family name would be soon forgotten.

While a parent’s hope is to create a life in which his child will prosper, sometimes the parent cannot foster a desirable situation for the child because of uncontrollable circumstances. During the Holocaust era, anyone with Jewish blood was a target of the genocide, so many were quick to put off their parents’ ethnic ties if it meant safety. This concept of not desiring to be a product of one’s parents is evident in Felix. He desires to make his life his own for more personal reasons, to the point that he rejects his family and the life he is “supposed” to live. While Felix denies his familial ties for acceptance, the desire to not assume the identity of one’s parents was common in the Holocaust era. However, in the case of the Jews, they were putting off their family ties for survival purposes. Many half-Jews were hopeful that their non-Jewish side would keep them safe from being victims. The implications of success or failure to hide from one’s Jewish heritage is seen in Ordinary Men. In one instance, a man who was in the role of murderer speaks of his realization that his cousin was a victim. The man who was safe and in control in the situation gained his status by clinging to his German heritage, whereas his relative was far less fortunate and fell victim to his Jewish roots.

Though Felix was not directly affected by the Holocaust, both his desire to escape his parent’s image and his fear of the end of his family tree nearing were sentiments that many Holocaust victims experienced. Presently, both of these themes seem to be prevalent in society as more and more people desire to see an impact come about from their efforts and long to leave behind the societal norms of the past that some of their parents are holding tight to.