Summer of My German Soldier
Summer of My German SoldierIntroduction
For Further Study
Summer of My German Soldier, Bette Greene's first and best-known novel, chronicles one summer in the life of a twelve-year-old Jewish girl in the rural South. First published in 1973, it was an overwhelming critical success and has gone on to become a classic of juvenile literature. The book was nominated for the National Book Award, and won the New York Times Outstanding Book Award, the Golden Kite Society's children's book writer's award, and the American Library Association's Notable Book Award. In 1978 Greene published a sequel, Morning Is a Long Time Coming.
The novel takes its inspiration in part from the author's own childhood. Like her heroine, Greene grew up in a small Arkansas town at the end of World War II. Her parents owned a country store, and they were the only Jewish family in a Protestant community. The story explores the tensions created by these kinds of ethnic and religious differences. Published the year that the Vietnam conflict ended, her book also acts as an allegory about the prejudices and fears of late 1960s and early 1970s America.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee on June 28, 1934, Bette Greene's childhood was very similar to that of Patty Bergman, the protagonist of Summer of My German Soldier. Like Patty, she was a
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young girl living in a rural Arkansas town at the end of World War II. Her parents also owned a country store, and—just like the Bergmans' situation—theirs was the only Jewish family in a Protestant community.
In 1950 Greene worked as a reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. A few years later, she attended the University of Alabama, and then transferred to Memphis State University. During these years she worked for United Press, but left in 1954. She spent the next two years at Columbia University in New York City. In 1965, she attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1973, she published her first book, Summer of My German Soldier. It was an overwhelming success, both critically and commercially. The novel was nominated for the National Book Award, and won the New York Times Outstanding Book Award, the Golden Kite Society's children's book writer's award, and the American Library Association's Notable Book Award.
Greene has published several other juvenile novels as well as nonfiction and adult fiction. A member of both P.E.N. and the Author's Guild, Greene resides in Tennessee with her husband Donald Sumner Greene, a physician.
The Arrival of the POWs
Patty's life changes when a group of German POWs arrives by train to be taken to the new prison camp just outside of town. She is struck by the fact that they look no different from anyone else. When the soldiers are brought into town to purchase hats to shield them from the "formidable Arkansas sun," Patty hurries to her parents' store to help out. There is one prisoner who speaks English, and he is singled out to make their purchases. After procuring hats for the men to wear while working in the fields, he approaches the stationery counter to buy writing supplies. Patty is at the counter, and he introduces himself to her. His name is Frederick Anton Reiker. Besides the stationery, he also buys a piece of costume jewelry, seemingly on a whim.
Anton Hides Out
News circulates that one of the prisoners has escaped. The men of the town form a mob, each being told to go home and gather firearms if they have not already brought them. A reporter named Charlene from the Memphis Commercial Appeal comes to Jenkinsville to get the story. Patty offers to guide her to the prison camp. She accepts the offer, and on the way to and from the camp Patty impresses Charlene with her intelligence.
One night, Patty hears a train approaching. She looks out the window of her room and sees someone hiding in the bushes, apparently about to jump onto the train. She goes outside and recognizes the shadowy figure as Anton. She offers to hide him the family's garage apartment. He accepts, and confides that he used the costume jewelry he bought at the store to bribe a guard. Patty begins stealing food for him. Her father notices the food disappearing; he assumes that Ruth is stealing it. Patty tells him that she has been eating it. She and Anton become friends.
After being caught by her father for disobeying him, her father begins beating her with his belt and knocks her to the ground. She looks up to see Anton outside. He has left his sanctuary and is going to stop her father's abuse, despite what his discovery will mean for him. Patty screams "go away" several times. Luckily, her father thinks it is directed at him. Anton returns to his hiding place, but not before he is seen by Ruth. The next day, Ruth tells Patty that she will not reveal Anton to the authorities.
A pair of FBI agents comes to Jenkinsville to investigate Anton's escape. They question everyone, and Patty tells them that she waited on him at the store. Other than his hair color and appearance, the only thing Patty tells them is that he was very polite. When they question her more closely, her father intervenes, accusing them of bullying her.
Eventually, Anton tells Patty that he must leave town. He realizes that he cannot hide out in the garage forever. The family has missed the extra food, and both he and Ruth are convinced that eventually someone will see him. Patty does not want him to leave. He gives her his greatgrandfather's gold signet ring, his only personal possession, and she gives him a monogrammed shirt that she had bought for her father's birthday. He leaves. With his ring hidden, she resolves to some day find him in Germany.
Patty's need for attention is too great for her to protect her secret. She begins showing off the ring, claiming she got it from a tramp. Her father fears that the mysterious tramp may have been a child molester and calls in the sheriff. After questioning her, the sheriff decides that nothing untoward has gone on. Eventually, the two FBI agents return to question Patty again. First questioning her about the mysterious tramp who gave her the ring, they attempt to lead the conversation to Anton, asking about the tramp's age. They ask her if she gave him anything in return. She tells them that she did not, but remarks on how polite the tramp was—the same thing she pointed out about Anton. The two FBI agents show her the monogrammed shirt and she sees a stained round hole in it. Knowing that she has given up, they give her a newspaper clipping, detailing Anton's death.
Patty's father is shocked that his daughter, a Jew, would betray him for "a goddamn Nazi." The FBI men tell him that she will be charged, tried, and prosecuted, possibly for treason. The townspeople greet her with cries of "Jew-Nazi." Patty refuses to implicate Ruth and tells her parents, the sheriff, and the FBI that she did it alone, "because he was nice to me." Because of her age, she is not tried for treason, but for delinquency. She is sentenced to reform school.
Patty is taken to the Jasper E. Conrad Arkansas Reformatory for Girls. The other girls in the school call her "Spy" or "Nazi"—"Natz" for short. She gets a note and newspaper subscription from Charlene Madlee, encouraging her to "keep smiling!" Hoping for a hint of friendship in the note, Patty writes back.
When Ruth visits, she gives her the news from home: Patty's parents are closing the store and leaving. Patty cries, and insists that there is "something wrong with" her, but Ruth assures her that it is nothing "a few years and a few pounds won't take care of." When visiting hours are up, Patty breaks down and clings to Ruth not wanting her to go. After Ruth leaves, Patty expresses her feeling of helplessness:
For moments or minutes I stood there. Not really moving. Barely managing to tread water. Was it possible for a beginning swimmer to actually make it to shore? It might take me my whole lifetime to find out.
Patty has lost Anton, alienated her parents and home town, and managed to get herself imprisoned. Yet she still has hope for a happy future.
Harry is Patty's abusive, ill-tempered father. A violent man full of repressed rage and self-hatred, he takes his frustrations out on Patty. As the only Jewish merchant in a Protestant town, Harry is constantly under pressure to underplay his ethnicity and to go along with his neighbors.
Harry is a complex character who encourages his family to be silent and go along with the majority view. He despises his own roots, and reacts with rage when his brother talks about their childhood poverty. His childhood has led him to become obsessed with the value of money, and he hates his father-in-law because he had to ask him for money to start his store. His history of violence goes back to his very early childhood, when his father had to hold him down on his bed, repeating "you will not be violent" over and over again.
Max is Harry's brother. A good-humored man, he tells the important story of how their father had tried to make Harry less violent. Although he tells the story in an amused manner, it only serves to make Harry angry. Max is not embarrassed about his poor childhood, and he is the brother who remembers family history.
Patricia (also known as Patty and Honey Babe) is the young protagonist of Summer of My German Soldier. Lonely and frustrated, she shelters an escaped German POW and ends up being put on trial for treason. She is an outcast in multiple ways: because she is Jewish; her family is wealthy; and she is perceived as a failure by her parents. By the end of the novel, Patty has also become an outcast from her country—her unpatriotic harboring of a POW is judged to be treason.
Patty strongly feels this isolation. She copes with her boredom, frustration, and loneliness by escaping into her own world of make-believe, exaggeration, and lies. These practices lead her into even more trouble, isolation, and parental disapproval.
By the end of the novel, Patty has gained an understanding of the consequences of her actions, the reality of family relationships, and the racial prejudices of her society. However, she still has a long way to go. Summer of My German Soldier is a study of Patty's developing mind, and the novel ends before she has completely matured.
Pearl is Patty's selfish and uncaring mother. She is a born saleswoman who is especially good at talking poor women into spending too much money. The pet of her own family, she refuses to grow up and still expects constant gifts and special treatment from her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Fried.
Patty feels that she is unattractive compared to her mother, and her mother does nothing to dissuade her of that. She is constantly comparing her to other girls her age as well as her younger sister, faulting her for her lack of femininity. She sometimes talks to people about her in her presence while acting as if she were not there.
Sharon is Patty's little sister. She is too young to play an active part in the story, but is used repeatedly as an example of everything that Patty is not. Quiet, beautiful, and well-behaved, Sharon spends much of the book out of the arena of action playing in her sandbox with friends of the same age. Unlike her mother, Sharon is an extremely affectionate child and adores Patty and Ruth.
Sheriff Cauldwell is one of the few sympathetic adults in Patty's life. Initially believing Patty's story about the way she got the ring, Cauldwell forbids her father from taking it away from her. It is apparent that he knows about Patty's home life and wishes to do what he can to make her life more bearable.
Freddy is "poor white trash" who tries his best to befriend Patty. Her father forbids her even to speak to him, as Freddy is considered too poor to be a suitable companion.
Grandma Fried is Patty's maternal grandmother. She is most concerned with feeding and caring for her family. She expresses her love for Patty through secret gifts of money and day trips, since Patty's parents live too far away for daily visits. Patty briefly thinks that her Grandma will be the caring mother figure that she so desperately wants, but feels angry and rejected when she does not fulfill this role.
- Summer of My German Soldier was adapted for television in 1978. The film starred Kristy McNichol as Patty, Bruce Davison as Anton, and was directed by Michael Tuckerbook. Greene co-wrote the script. An audio book version of the novel is available from Recorded Books. Published in 1995, this unabridged recording is read by Dale Dickey, and covers six audio cassettes.
Grandpa Fried is a retired and prosperous businessman. Fond of his family and happy to receive visitors, he has, by the admission of his own family, gotten much "more nice" after his exit from the business world. His face has gone from "resolute to gentle," and he "still has his hair." While he does not particularly trust or like Patty's father, he does lend him the money to start his business.
Ruth is the housekeeper and nurse for the Bergen family and a substitute mother for both Patty and Sharon. She is a proud woman who tries to instill a sense of personal pride into Patty. As an African-American woman in the old South, her pride is, as she says, "all she's got." Ruth is protective of Patty, and senses a microcosm of her own place in society in Patty's own treatment by her parents. Ruth is sympathetic to Anton's plight—both because he is Patty's friend and because he reminds her of her son fighting overseas.
A reporter from Memphis, Charlene first comes into Patty's life after Anton escapes. She appears ready to befriend Patty, and remarks on her precocious intelligence. Charlene gives Patty a subscription to her newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, and covers the story of Patty's trial. She later writes to her in prison.
McFee is one of the FBI agents who questions Patty.
John Pierce is one of the FBI agents investigating Anton's escape. He threatens Patty, and later shows her both the shirt she gave Anton and the newspaper clipping about his death.
A German POW, Frederick Anton Reiker (also known as Anton Reiker) escapes from the prison camp and hides in Patty's garage apartment. He is found and shot while resisting capture. Anton first meets Patty in her parents' store and surprises her by speaking perfect English. This, combined with his civility and charming nature, causes Patty to think of him as a person rather than a German soldier.
Anton is well-educated and unsympathetic to the Nazi cause. He was destined to be a doctor before the war destroyed his plans, and is an attractive and well-spoken man. Just as Patty doesn't think of him as a "real" German, the novel is careful to show that he is, in fact, not entirely German: one of his parents is English. His character breaks stereotypes about German citizens.
At first, it seems that Anton is taking advantage of Patty. However, he redeems himself when he risks his own life to save Patty from her father's beating.
A middle-aged woman who works at the Bergens' store, Mary Wren (also known as Sister Wren) is described as "the gossip."
The most important theme of Summer of My German Soldier is the separation of racial and ethnic groups. Patty's religion, Ruth's race, and the prejudices of Jenkinsville all play against each other to illustrate the problematic racial politics of rural Southern culture in the 1940s.
The inherent racism of the South is illustrated most obviously through the character of Ruth, the family's maid. She rarely talks about the daily prejudice she faces, but the reality of her situation is revealed in several key scenes. In one such episode, a neighbor demands that the family fire Ruth for her "uppityness." Even Patty initially thinks in these racist terms, as shown by her later rejection of them. As she says, "Ruth isn't one bit uppity. Merely prideful." As the descendant of slaves and the potential victim of lynch mobs and crowd hatred, Ruth already knows more than enough about violence and the corruption of power. Because of this, Ruth is immediately drawn to Anton's plight. He is hunted, imprisoned, and cast out from the world for being German, just as Ruth is despised for being black.
Initially, the Bergen family's Judaism is not an obvious issue in either the novel or the town. At times this seems to be deliberate, as when the family discusses the fate of their relatives in Nazi-occupied parts of Europe. When Grandmother Fried says she worries because she has not heard from their relatives in quite some time, there is only silence in response. Any intimations of anti-Semitism in their town are subtle. Most obviously, her father is not granted extra rations of gas to go to a synagogue forty miles away since it is deemed a waste of resources.
More subtly, Harry's minority status forces him to go along with the majority opinion. For instance, Harry does not try to stop the townspeople from evicting a Chinese-American storekeeper after war with Japan is declared. However, when Patty is revealed as the one who sheltered Anton, suddenly her and her family's Jewishness becomes a factor. Her father expresses outrage that she, as a Jew, would help a Nazi. Moreover, the townspeople deride her with cries of "Jew-Nazi." In an ironic parallel with earlier events, her parents are forced out of their store.
Patriotism and Identity
Anton, Patty, and Ruth have complex personal identities that are in conflict with national identity and patriotism. Anton Reiker is a divided character: both a Nazi and a German, the book serves to humanize him and define him in much broader terms. Educated, polite, and a speaker of perfect English, Anton cannot be seen as simply a German Nazi soldier. By hiding him, Patty is considered as treasonous and subversive; her Jewish heritage exacerbates the public outcry against her.
Ruth is not patriotic, which stems from her treatment as a second-class citizen; because of her feelings toward the dominant culture and the way that it has treated both herself and her son, Ruth feels no particular loyalty to it. This enables Ruth to help Anton when she finds out that Patty is hiding him, so that she too is guilty of "collaboration with the enemy."
Throughout Summer of My German Solider, morality is often indicated by a character's ability to see beyond stereotypes. Many of the business leaders of Jenkinsville are identified as immoral through their "patriotic" act of evicting a Chinese grocer in response to Japanese aggression. The POW camp doctor, on the other hand, is demarcated as a morally sound character through his sensitive understanding of Anton. As he says of the German POWs, "not all are rabid Nazis … Reiker wasn't cut from that mold … [H]e seemed like a decent man." This lesson is one that Patty must learn over the course of the summer. In learning it, she goes from being a patriotic young woman to being guilty of treason.
The Juvenile Novel
Summer of My German Summer is typical of the literary genre known as the juvenile, or young adult, novel. The juvenile novel is typically a first-person narrative, told from the point of view of a character trying to find his or her place in the world. This type of "coming of age" fiction is often concerned with a single large event and its repercussions on the life of the protagonist. The function of this kind of novel is to enable the audience to experience the maturing process vicariously. Targeted mainly at an adolescent audience, the juvenile novel often concerns a single issue relevant to the process of maturation. In the case of Summer of My German Soldier, the topic is loyalty.
Topics for Further Study
- Summer of My German Soldier was published the year that the United States withdrew its forces from Vietnam. To what extent can the novel be read as an allegory about this war?
- Research the history of anti-Semitism in America. Is it fair to say that the American South was more prejudiced than the North? Why might Greene have set the story in Arkansas?
- Race and ethnicity play very important roles in the novel. How is the situation of Jewish Americans presented as the same as and different from that of African Americans?
The idea and responsibility of loyalty is explored through Patty's relationship with Anton, as well as Ruth's relationship with both Patty and Anton. At the same time, these personal loyalties are contrasted with the antagonistic forces of national and family loyalty. At the beginning of the novel, Patty's loyalty is to her country and her family, and her life is spent trying to fit into the demands that they place on her. As the plot develops, she gradually replaces this sense of duty with one based on emotions and personal responsibilities instead. In this way, her loyalty to Anton means that she is disloyal both her country and her parents: she must decide if friendship or patriotic duty is more important.
An unreliable narrator is one whose version of events cannot be accepted at face value. This can be for a variety of reasons. If the narrator is very young, or involved in the action, the narrative will not be objective. In some novels, such as Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe, the narrator is actively engaged in conning the reader—making up events and providing false interpretations in order to create a specific effect. Patty Bergen, the narrator of Summer of My German Soldier, falls into the former category. Because she is unaware of many of her own feelings, Patty is unable to give a full account of her motives throughout the novel.
The reliability of Patty's version of events is complicated even more by her active imagination. She lies to herself and the people around her, and her perceptions of the world are filtered through fantasies and wish-fulfillment. This is her mental defense against the reality of her violent and neglectful home life. Patty is open about her need for exaggeration and outright fabrication, recounting events and conversations, and then immediately passing them on to others in completely different forms. By the end of the novel, Patty has learned to tell the truth. Moreover, she can finally express her disappointment at, and anger with, her parents. However, she is still unaware of some key facets of the world around her, especially the facts of the Holocaust, so her narrative reflects a distorted worldview. The narrative "holes" created by this distortion make the novel more powerful by forcing the reader to complete Patty's story for her. The half-way house of the correctional facility in which she waits at the novel's conclusion thus becomes symbolic of her growing awareness.
World War II at Home: POWs and Rationing
World War II had a great impact on daily life in America. Like the Bergens, Americans were subjected to rationing of supplies such as milk, butter, and gasoline. The shortage of able-bodied male workers forced industry to hire previously marginalized workers, which opened up career opportunities for women. The heroic American working woman was idealized as "Rosie the Riveter." At the same time, many jobs lost to the war effort on agriculture and industry were filled by POWs like Reiker. The government contracted out POW labor to private citizens, with over half of the contracts going to farm work. In the South, POWs picked cotton, cut sugarcane, and harvested tobacco.
Nearly 372,000 Germans were held in U.S. prison camps during World War II. Conditions in the POW camps were relatively pleasant, allowing the prisoners to cook for themselves and spend limited amounts of money at their own discretion. Some POWs made friends with Americans from the surrounding communities. However, there was great tension surrounding such relationships, and frequent panics about escapes. There were 2,803 escapes during the war, and fifty-six prisoners were shot while attempting to escape. Thirty-four of them died.
Anti-Semitism at Home and Abroad
The German government seized property and businesses from Jewish citizens in the 1930s; in addition, laws were passed to take away their civil liberties and rights. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, this systematic destruction of rights turned into an attempt to exterminate Judaism in Europe. As the Nazi forces invaded Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union, Jewish people were gathered into ghettoes, and then imprisoned in labor camps, concentration camps, and death camps. Six million European Jews had been killed by the end of the war in 1945.
During the 1930s, many famous industry leaders and public figures supported the Nazi Party in the United States. Henry Ford was one of these men sympathetic to anti-Semitic views. On September 16, 1941, aviation hero Charles Lindbergh blamed Jews for trying to get the United States into a war with Germany. His views were similar to those of many Americans who are cynical about the war, angry at the loss of American life, and sick of rationing. A 1945 poll revealed that fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that Jews hold too much power in the United States—a two-hundred percent increase in the results of the same poll taken in 1938. In Patty Bergen's Arkansas, Jews make up a very small fraction of the population.
War in the Early Seventies: Vietnam
After achieving independence from French control in 1954, Vietnam was split north and south of the 17th parallel. The most organized resistance group, the Viet Minh, went to North Vietnam, where they formed a communist state. South Viet-nam remained a non-communist state. Under the Geneva Accords, free elections were due to be held on the issue of unity. The Viet Minh fully expected to win, but the leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, refused to hold the election, which was in violation of international law but with the support of the United States. The North Vietnamese decided to unify Vietnam by force. The United States supported the increasingly unpopular regime in South Vietnam with military and financial aid.
As the numbers of South Vietnamese insurgents increased, President Kennedy committed more and more American troops to the region, and by the end of 1962 there were 11,000 U.S. military advisers in the country. In 1964, after North Vietnamese forces fired upon a U.S. destroyer, Congress ratified the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and America began full-scale intervention. The conflict escalated: American troop strength was 389,000 by 1969. In the United States, resistance to war mounted steadily. Troop withdrawal began in 1969, but the conflict widened. Under President Nixon, U.S. Forces invaded Cambodia, sparking an intense wave of antiwar action. The remaining U.S. forces did not leave until March 29, 1973. More than 47,000 Americans died during the war.
As is the case with many great works of children's literature, Summer of My German Soldier was largely ignored by the critics upon its publication. In fact, despite being nominated for multiple awards, Greene's book received only one major review. However, Summer of My German Soldier has become a popular favorite and a classroom staple.
In his New York Times Book Review review, Peter Saurian highlights both the strengths of the novel and the possible reasons that it escaped critical attention at the time. He asserts that "in some ways Bette Greene's material is not promising. Her characters could easily have come out of a melodrama." However, Saurian does not stop at this observation, pointing out instead that "the writing is fresh" and causes the reader to see these simply presented issues "in a fresh and unexpected light."
Compare & Contrast
- 1940s: Many American men are drafted into the military services to fight in World War II.
1970s: The final years of the Vietnam War are marked by intense opposition and protests. Many young men eligible for the draft find ways to avoid military service.
Today: The draft has been abolished, and the United States has not been involved in a major military action—except the Gulf War—since Vietnam.
- Early 1940s: Germany conquers much of Europe by invasion and occupation.
1970s: Germany is separated into East (communist) and West (democratic) Germany, and Berlin is partitioned by the infamous Berlin Wall. Anyone found trying to escape East Germany is imprisoned or shot.
Today: A reunified Germany is a powerful industrial and financial powerhouse.
- 1940s: Racial segregation in the American South is not only common, but enforced by law.
1970s: Following two decades of turmoil and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, segregation is illegal.
Today: The "New South" has many African-American elected officials, yet the Confederate flag still flies on the capitol of South Carolina, and affirmative action programs have been struck down in some Southern states.
Saurian reads the novel as a "finely hewn" presentation of emotional complexity, suggesting that the characters who surround Patty offer multifaceted foils against which her character can define itself. Anton gives her "the delicately conveyed gift of her own value." At the same time, the review notes the major themes of the novel, calling attention to the association of Harry Bergen with Adolph Hitler. Arguing against a dismissive reception of the novel, Saurian summarizes the impact of the novel with the conclusion that "the stuff of it is fine, like the texture of Patty herself. The detail is too meaningfully specific, too highly selective to be trite."
While Saurian's review focused on the new emotional density that Greene brought to a relatively simple story, a later review dismissed the novel to such an extent that it got the basic facts wrong. The 1973 Christmas books round-up in New York Times Book Review summarized the plot of Summer of My German Soldier as the story of "a German POW in Arizona." The novel is, of course, set in Arkansas.
Despite this lack of critical reception, the novel has remained a favorite of both the classroom and the home, and some of the richest reviews of Greene's work can be found in student responses as well as lessons plans. Osayimwense Osa's lesson plan from English Journal, for example, compares a junior novel from the United States with one from Nigeria: Greene's Summer of My German Soldier with Buchi Emecheta's The Bride Price. Osa contends that the similarity of the two novels can inspire children from a variety of backgrounds to an awareness and appreciation of different cultures.
Summer of My German Soldier is also a key work in many online learning programs and home school plans, for the same reason that Saurian's review singled it out for praise—it combines fine writing with an accessible, "issue-based" historical plot that lends itself easily to thematic and cultural analysis.
Tabitha McIntosh-Byrd is an English Literature instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. In the following essay she analyzes the themes of racial, social, and self-awareness in Greene's Summer of My German Soldier.
Silence and deferred knowledge—both historical and personal—play crucial roles in Summer of My German Soldier. That which is unsaid, or unrealized, lies at the heart of Greene's novel. Just as Patty is slowly adding to her vocabulary word by word, day by day, so the book gradually adds to her consciousness. Significantly, her favorite words—those she will share with her little sister—include the key psychological term, "ego." Patty is building her sense of self, her ego, through language. Her first-person narrative becomes structured as an infinite series of epiphanies that culminate in key revelations, the most obvious of which is her realization that she doesn't like her parents. Her thought processes leading up to this revelation are carefully laid out—the unconscious anger, harsh language, and continual self-editing creating the outlines of an emotion that Patty cannot bring herself to name until the final pages of her story.
In the same way, the more pointedly social unconscious links and drives of the world inside and around her are densely crowded on Patty, her town, and the text. Throughout Summer of My German Soldier, historical and social silence are elevated to such a degree that the town of Jenkinsville becomes, finally, devoid of all meaning. When the townspeople shout, "Jew Nazi!" they compound two concepts that can only be connected in conditions of willful blindness—thus revealing themselves as participants in a hypocritical cultural and linguistic system.
The story tracks the operations of Patty's mind perfectly, revealing an embryonic self that attains greater and greater autonomy as her narrative moves forward. The gradual accretion and collection of word associations and thought patterns is stressed and illustrated throughout the novel. Patty's silences are deliberately and carefully constructed defenses against true recognition of the world. The issues about which she cannot bring herself to think, speak, or provide comment are connected to race and prejudice.
What Do I Read Next?
- The Diary of A Young Girl was written by Anne Frank and first published in 1947. Frank's diary is the record of a Jewish family's life in hiding in Nazi occupied Holland during World War II.
- The sequel to Summer of My German Soldier was published in 1979. Morning Is a Long Time Coming follows an eighteen-year-old Patty as she leaves for Germany to find Anton's mother. On the way she stops in Paris and experiences her first love affair.
- Greene's Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe (1975), chronicles the trials and tribulation of a young woman named Beth as she slowly realizes that she's been changing to win over a guy named Philip Hall. She decides to be her smart, strong self instead.
- Judy Blume's 1977 novel, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself traces the life of Sally Freedman as she begins to grow up. Like Patty Bergen, Sally is a Jewish girl living in the South during and after World War II.
- S. E. Hinton's Tex (1979) remains a popular novel for young adults. Like Patty, Tex must learn how to cope with the mounting expectations of adulthood while addressing his own family issues.
An early example in the novel sets up this paradigm of simultaneous recognition and silence. In her memory of the Chu Lee grocery story—whose owners have been evicted in a quasi-lynching—she evinces a careful and fragile reconstruction of the palpable reality of hatred in front of her, saying, "there's probably a simple logical explanation. It couldn't be what I think." What she thinks is of course what actually happened, and her textual self-silencing—the process by which she indicates her knowledge of the real while removing it from her linguistic reality—is abetted and caused by her parents, especially her father. In response to her questions about the incident, he tells her that she is "never in [her] life to mention it again."
This simultaneous presence and absence of "what Patty thinks" is the key element in her evolving relationship with Ruth. Patty's immersion in a world of racial division and prejudice is worked through most clearly by her gradual reshaping of the language associated with Ruth, and the linguistic boundaries of cultural vision. The most critical instance of this comes early in the novel, when Ruth explains why she should dress neatly to visit her mother at work: pride. Patty thinks to herself: "Pride. Maybe that's what it is, what Ruth has. What makes her different … Ruth isn't one bit uppity. Merely prideful." Her previous interpretation of Ruth's behavior is here signified through its negation. Patty does not reveal her racist understanding of Ruth (the active application of the racially loaded signifier "uppity") but her reformed racism instead. Ruth is not uppity but prideful—the racial signifier unpacked, deconstructed, and reassigned in a positive linguistic pattern from which can be formed a new interpretive paradigm.
The associations that Patty is unaware of are as equally apparent from her linguistic associations as they are from her deliberate self-silencing. In a technique very similar to the narrative experimentation of stream of consciousness, the operations of Patty's mind reveal themselves through free association and pattern making of images, thoughts and words. Just as Ruth's comments on pride spark the reorganization of linguistic and racial paradigms, so Patty's observations change over the course of her narrative as she develops.
At the very beginning of the novel, her perception of the world is filtered through a semiotic set of cultural determinants, images, and pressures. This is evident in the style of her descriptions, and the way in which they connect to each other. Patty's unthinking acceptance of her culture's constructed norms is expressed primarily through the notion of patriotism. The first line of the text reveals the unthinking and naive immediacy of that acceptance: "When I saw the crowd gathering at the train station," she says, "I wondered what President Roosevelt would think … we're as patriotic as anybody." This thought leads to a more elaborate description of "the people" whose patriotic duty is in doubt. Jimmy Wells, for example, is "wearing the same expression Dane Clark wore as the Marine sergeant in Infamy at Pearl Harbor."
Explicitly, Patty's anxiety over correct social form is put to rest by reading and rereading the crowd through a defining visual vocabulary of the patriotic war film. At its simplest level, Jenkinsville is patriotic because it resembles representations of patriotism. On a much more complex level, this association of idea and image carries a radical interpretation that is entirely at odds with its more immediate meaning. The linkage of patriotic feeling with cinematic trope suggests that the former is a product of the latter—that Hollywood is creating, instead of reflecting, national pride, and that both are, therefore, equally false.
This is, of course, the lesson that Patty has learned by the end of Summer of My German Soldier, but there is ample evidence from her own inconsistent presentations that this knowledge has been present from the beginning. When Sister Parker suggests that Roosevelt himself chose Jenkinsville as a POW prison site, for instance, Patty laughs at the absurd self-importance of such a claim—only several pages after she herself expressed identical ideas. Patty never explicitly connects these two passages or perceptions, but her narrative is carefully constructed to present and represent key ideas such as these in a technique that illustrates, rather than relates, her personal evolution.
At the same time, evidence of Patty's indoctrination in Jenkinsville's racial attitudes is equally important to the opening pages of the text, and is illustrated in equally complex ways. The white bystanders are referred to by their full names, such as "Mary Wren,"' and "Reverend Benn." Conversely, the only African American spectator is called, "old Chester, the colored porter." Patty's own prejudice is thus revealed through slight but important semantic differentiation. As with the Roosevelt example, this scene is paralleled later in the novel. In a moment that both underscores and then rejects her earlier prejudice, Patty observes that "the colored" always use titles when addressing each other, "to give each other the respect that the rest of the world holds back."
This retrospective, albeit implied, realization of her disrespect is presaged in the earlier scene. In an extremely telling association of images, Patty describes Chester, "the only Negro" on the platform, "in arm-touching contact with whites." Immediately after this the prisoners arrive: "Then amid hissing, steamy clouds of white, the train braked, screeched, and finally came to a halt." The "hissing, steamy clouds of white" by which Chester is surrounded gain major connotative power by being juxtaposed with him in this way. The "white" becomes not steam, but the people of Jenkinsville themselves—a pervasive, inescapable, amorphous presence that defines itself through color. Again, this interpretive move is prompted by the association of key words and images, suggesting both that the larger pattern of meaning is present in Patty's mind, at the same time as it requires reassembly by the reader. She does not, and cannot yet have access to the ramifications of the connections that her language creates.
However, some major associative linguistic patterns that appear throughout the novel have not crystallized at its conclusion, leaving certain revelations suspended—just as Patty herself remains suspended in the limbo of the correctional facility. Anti-Semitism, Judaism and the Holocaust remain almost entirely unarticulated—though Patty's growing sense of these connections is revealed by her wry comments on the preacher at the prison who describes "the method the Jews used when they killed Jesus." In fact, the expression of their religion has been systematically and literally denied to the Bergen family, by the refusal of gas rations needed to get them to synagogue. In agrotesque association of words, Jenkinsville's Jewish people have been prevented from experiencing their culture by gas, just as, a continent away, the Nazi party is using gas to remove Judaism from Europe.
The disappearance of Jewishness from the Bergen family maps onto and follows a progressively widening series of correlations. The Bergens are symbolically de-racinated/unacculturated by their inability to go to synagogue, causing their prayers to be silenced, and thus effectively silencing them. This is associatively correlated with the situation in Europe. The silencing of the Bergens functions as a paradigmatic miniature of the programmatic destruction of Judaism from Europe, represented in this text by one specification si-lence—the sudden cessation of letters from relatives in Germany. These two symbiotic processes—local silencing and wider cultural extermination—are reenacted on a metatextual level by the silence which lies at the heart of Greene's text: the topic of the Holocaust itself.
That at least some of the adult characters of Summer of My German Soldier are aware of the reality of war is made clear in several places, as is Patty's own partial awareness. Anton, for example, is entirely knowledgeable about the situation, indicated by his disbelief and amusement that "a Jewish girl has rescued [him]." More tellingly, the Fried and Bergman families touch upon the issue at dinner. As Patty notes, one of the subjects discussed is "The fate of the Jews." Yet this topic, like the silence from German relatives that Grandma Fried worries about, is entirely glossed by both families. Mary Bergen wants to talk about clothes, Harry is happy to cover the topic in silence, the grandparents are happy to be reassured, and Patty relates the conversation entirely without comment. Nor does she return to it, either explicitly or implicitly for the rest of her narrative. The effect of this is to create a metacommentary on the reality of Jenkinsville—a paradoxically "resounding silence," whose echoes can be heard only through their absence. Patty's epiphanic understanding of Reiker's shock at her religion is thus left in suspense at the end of the novel—forcing the reader to construct it. In doing so, the text forces its readers to re-imagine the novel's key symbolic operations with the benefit of a historical hindsight which Patty lacks.
Patty's uneasiness about the appearance of her conversation with Reiker is only imaginable in a pre-Holocaust World War II, an iconographic world in which the reality of Nazi Germany is ignored or unrealized. The war effort in whose service the citizens of Jenkinsville are engaged is thus a deracinated one, stripped of its compelling ethnic anxiety, and replaced with geopolitical maneuvering. This is a process whereby the delusory unity of the American people is promoted through a nationally experienced, monolithic sense of patriotism. The inherent fascism of this approach is drawn in vivid colors by both the final insults thrown at Patty as she is driven away, and by the "stage setting" of the POWs' arrival.
In Summer of My German Soldier, it is the American people who are the Nazis. They are the ones who wait for cattle cars full of prisoners to arrive so they can spit at them. They are the ones who lynch, persecute, and kill on the basis of race. Their hypocritical status as patriots and citizen killers, freedom fighters and segregationists, culminates in the fundamental oxymoron that lies at the center of the text: "Jew Nazi!" In this repeated phrase, Greene entirely deconstructs the unity of patriotic Jenkinsville—showing it to be predicated on the very acts of silencing and denial that enable the program of extermination in Europe.
Source: Tabitha McIntosh-Byrd, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.
Susan F. Marcus
In the following excerpt, Marcus compares characteristics of Them That Glitter and Them That Don't and Summer of My German Soldier.
[In Them That Glitter and Them That Don't Greene] once again places her young heroine in a family too occupied with their own lives to love or care about her. But this time, unlike Patty Bergen [the central character of Summer of My German Soldier], the girl manages to emerge not unscathed by circumstances, but strengthened by facing up to them. Because everyone in Bainesville, Arkansas, distrusts her conniving Gypsy mother and disdains her drinking father, Carol Ann Delaney must endure her own lonely life. When she is unexpectedly called upon to sing before her high school class, her classmates finally begin to pay attention to her and to appreciate the talent that she has always dreamed would take her to Nashville and to fame. But her high school graduation day brings to Carol Ann the realization that most of her so-called friends and, more cruelly, Mama have abandoned her after all and that she must in turn leave her little brother and sister now if she is ever to improve any of their lives. As she leaves Bainesville for Nashville, Carol Ann calls upon those same Gypsy instincts which she has resented in her Mama to help her survive…. [Carol Ann] will keep her readers turning the page (pulling for her) as she honestly faces, and overcomes, her painful situation.
Source: Susan F. Marcus, Review of "Them That Glitter and Them That Don't," in School Library Journal, Vol. 29, No. 8, April, 1983, pp. 122-23.
In the following review, Slung argues that Greene's presentation of people from Arkansas is inaccurate and affected by a "cosmopolitan awareness" uncharacteristic of real-world counterparts.
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
Source: Michele Slung, "Adolescent Heroines," in Book World—Washington Post, 1983, p. 14.
Mary M. Burns
In the following review, Burns praises Green for the skilful construction and persuasive realness of her characters.
Skillfully constructed, [Them That Glitter and Them That Don't] is persuasively real. And while Carol Ann as narrator is undoubtedly the central character, the personality of her mother—half child, half con artist—is a brilliant creation, demonstrating that the parents' uncaring attitude toward their daughter should be understood as dependence rather than malice. Humor rising naturally from the circumstances transforms the grim details of Carol Ann's life into an optimistic chronicle. As she proudly tells her music teacher, she is, like most Gypsies, a survivor—and her argument is convincing.
Source: Mary M. Burns, A review of "Them That Glitter and Them That Don't," in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LIX, No. 4, August, 1983, p. 453.
In the following excerpt, Mitchell focuses on Greene's presentation of how Jewish reaction to the Holocaust caused by Germany creates more Jewish victims.
No one would accuse The Summer of My German Soldier of being an upbeat story. It seems, first of all, to operate on the principle of reversing some standard elements of holocaust literature: the American child is a Jew, but she offers safety to a fugitive German prisoner-of-war.
Her father and mother are terrible people, and Patty's isolation from everyone else in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, is so palpable that some of the children who suffered through the war in Europe seem fortunate by contrast. Patty loved Anton, gave him what help she could, and mourned his death when that help was not enough. For this she is repudiated by her family and persecuted by the townspeople. Her Jewishness is an embarrassment to other Jews…. Summer of My German Soldier catches the despair of the Holocaust and its aftermath by indicating that one sensitive, loving little girl and one gentle German boy are no match for the times in which they live. They make a symbolic commitment to reaching out, and because of this they swell the list of victims….
Source: Judy Mitchell, "Children of the Holocaust," in English Journal, Vol. 69, No. 76, October, 1980, pp. 14-18.
In the following review, Wilson praises Greene for her use of first person narration and accurate portrayal of the speech of a nineteen-year-old girl.
The story [in Morning Is a Long Time Coming] is predictable enough and so is the heroine's situation, but the novel is saved from banality by the effectiveness of the narrator's technique. By telling the story in the first person the novelist succeeds admirably. The story could have become over-burdened with the bitterness and the adolescent preoccupations of a very unhappy young woman. It does not.
The author also succeeds in mimicking the speech of a nineteen year old. As a result the story is quite realistic and not overly melodramatic. The reader cannot help but empathize with the alienation of the heroine.
Source: Kevin Wilson, Review of "Morning is a Long Time Coming," in Best Sellers, Vol. 38, No. 9, December, 1978, p. 291.
In the following review, Forman evaluates the sequel to Summer of My German Soldier, finding the depiction of the relationship of the same heroine to her new love-interest Roger to be strained, but the depiction of a "Southern Jewish family in the 1940s" to be "strong and honest."
[Morning Is a Long Time Coming, an] autobiographical novel four years after the author's The Summer of My German Soldier … opens in the same small Arkansas town. Still alienated from her father, mother, and grandparents, Patty Bergen graduates from high school, then sets out for Europe instead of going to college. In France, Patty has her first love affair with a young teacher, Roger, but feels torn between him and her need to find the parents of the German POW she once unsuccessfully hid (recorded in Greene's first novel). Wracked by a bleeding ulcer brought on by the tensions with her family and her lover, she finally leaves Roger to go to Göttingen, Germany in search of the POW's family…. Having come to terms with her anxieties, she returns to France for a rapproachment with Roger. Green's portrayal of a Southern Jewish family in the 1940s is strong and honest, but the depiction of Patty's relationship with Roger is strangely forced and detached. Despite this central flaw, however, the novel will attract teens because of its sensitive treatment of the loosening of familial bonds.
Source: Jack Forman, Review of "Morning is a Long Time Coming," in School Library Journal, Vol. 24, No. 8, April, 1978, p. 93.
In the following review, Laski suggests that the explicit violence and bitterness and the implicit sex in Summer of My German Soldier would be disturbing to a twelve-year-old (the age of the heroine in the novel).
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
Source: Audrey Laski, "Partridge in a Pear Tree," in Times Educational Supplement, No. 3261, December 9, 1977, p. 21.
Osayimwense, Osa, "Adolescent Girls' Need for Love in Two Cultures—Nigeria and the United States," in English Journal, Vol. 72, No.8, December, 1983, pp. 35-7.
Review, The New York Times Book Review, December 2, 1973, p. 73.
Saurian, Peter, "Summer of My German Soldier," in The New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1973, p. 29.
Buck, Anita, Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoner of War Camps in Minnesota, North Star Press, 1998.
Buck chronicles the history of fifteen POW camps in Minnesota, illustrating the occasional friendships between town and camp, and the fair living conditions for the prisoners.
Carlson, Lewis H., We Were Each Other's Prisoners: An Oral History of World War II American and German Prisoners of War, Basic Books, 1997.
A wide-ranging collection of interviews and oral histories from both German and American POWs and captors during World War II.
Dinnerstein, Leonard, Anti-Semitism in America, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Dinnerstein traces the history of anti-Semitism in the United States, showing its development from the early colonial period to the present day.
Lemaster, Carolyn Gray, A Corner of the Tapestry: A History of the Jewish Experience in Arkansas, 1820s–1990s, University of Arkansas Press, 1994.
A comprehensive history of the Jewish people who helped settle Arkansas and stayed to become a significant cultural factor in the state's development.
McGuire, Phillip, ed., Taps for a Jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War II, ABC-Clio, 1983.
McGuire collects letters written home by African American soldiers in World War II, who faced discriminatory practices in the draft and combat assignments.
Shandley, Robert R. ed., Unwilling Germans? The Goldenhagen Debate, University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
This essay collection responds to the best-selling book, Hitler's Willing Executioners, a 1996 work that argues that ordinary German citizens were complicit in the Holocaust. These essays argue both sides of the case, and the questions they raise are central to Greene's sympathetic portrayal of Anton in Summer of My German Soldier.
Soderbergh, Peter A., "The Dark Mirror: War Ethos in Juvenile Fiction, 1865–1919," in University of Daytona Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, Summer, 1973, pp. 13-24.
Soderbergh provides an overview of the patriotism and prejudices of war fiction written for children in the century before Green's novel.