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Deathfugue

Deathfugue

by Paul Celan

The "Man"

Symbol Analysis

The man who lives in a house couldn't sound more ordinary at first – we know lots of men who live in houses! But it soon becomes clear that this man is a Nazi guard, most likely a member of the notorious S.S. organization that carried out many of the worst crimes of the Holocaust. The man is a representative of the Nazi movement as a whole and of a particularly dark strain in German culture. His physical appearance is a manifestation of the Nazi ideal, but his actions are nothing short of barbaric. He is frequently shown ordering people around in the poem, and committing terrible abuses. At the same time, he thinks his knowledge of books and music someone makes him superior and "cultured."

  • Lines 5: Referring to the guard as simply a "man" is understatement. His vipers are a symbol of betrayal, sin, loss of innocence, and black magic.
  • Line 7: The sparkling of the stars in the sky is a symbol of the guard's Romantic inclinations. Romanticism was a literary and artistic movement in Germany that remained very influential through the twentieth century.
  • Line 9: The prisoners are called "his Jews" as if he possessed or owned them. The guard is a kind of slave master.
  • Line 18: His blue eyes represent the Aryan racial ideal that the Nazis valued.
  • Line 25: The guard is compared to Death, the "master" from Germany. He is death incarnate.
  • Lines 31: The comparison between the guard and Death intensifies when we learn that Death also has blue eyes.
  • Line 35: The two images of the guard's actions – playing with vipers and daydreaming – symbolize two different and possibly irreconcilable parts of German culture during the Nazi era: its cruelty and its attempt to be "cultured" and poetic.

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