Hopeless and Helpless: Hans Fallada Depicts Individual Resistance as Futile in his Novel ‘Every Man Dies Alone’

Fallada, Hans. Every Man Dies Alone. New York: Melville House, 2009.

Hans Fallada’s nineteen-forty-seven novel, Every Man Dies Alone, depicts German citizens living under the Nazi regime as eager to resist dictatorship yet hopeless in their attempts. Two such characters, Otto and Anna Quangel, lose their only child to the war and decide to write post cards that call attention to the tyranny of Hitler, the Führer. They put their lives in jeopardy in hopes of spreading resistance, however, by the end of the novel they come to realize that all they have done is incite fear into already petrified citizens and further incriminate innocents. Otto and Anna fall into the category of victims, desperate not to be bystanders to the cruelty and wrong doings of the Nazi regime. However, not even their attempts at morality make them likable characters: Otto is a cold, bird-faced man who prefers solitude and Anna is the epitome of a stereotype: “It was harder for Anna Quangel than it was for her husband: she was a woman (485).” At the time, there were other people like the Quangels, for instance the White Rose Society, who used non-violent, intellectual resistance and were met with the same fate. It can be speculated that if all the resistors of similar nature had come together, a more immediate and successful impact could have been made.

Other characters like Enno Kluge and Emil Borkhausen resist the Nazi regime by shirking their work duties, stealing and generally acting against the Party. However, these actions are not consciously anti-Nazi, but rather due to their inherent laziness and criminal inclinations. These characters are both bystanders and perpetrators, carefree to the general wellness of Germany and its people by being strictly self-serving. Kluge, a gambling addict and womanizer, ends up dead at the hands of a Gestapo inspector; his death is as meaningless and unimpactful as his life. Borkhausen survives the war, but has no character arc, and is as useless and pathetic on the final page as he was on the first. Such people made little difference to the Nazi regime due to the fact that the shirking was unintentional and a form of purely individual resistance. If Kluge had persuaded his entire factory to shirk work with him, the war effort would have been impacted on a much larger scale. Once again, individual resistance equals futility.

Every Man Dies Alone also takes a look into the lives of the Nazi Party, where we get to know Inspector Escherich, the man tasked with tracking down the writer of the post cards. Escherich is a self-important man, overly aware of his value to the Gestapo, yet unwilling to bend to their rules. After two years of patiently waiting out the post card writer, the Gestapo grow sick of his tactics and throw him in the basement, where he is beaten into submission. He later returns to his position, more set on tracking down the writer than ever before. This character arc depicts fear as a cause for motive. Escherich’s beatings turn him further against Otto, the writer of the postcards, rather than against the people who betray him, the Party. In the end Escherich comes to the conclusion that the only person the post cards truly affected, was him, and then proceeds to commit suicide. There is no resistance in Escherich’s character, and yet he meets the same unforgiving death as the rest of them, further depicting the helplessness of Nazi Germany, even for the perpetrators.

In conclusion, I believe Every Man Dies Alone portrays German people during the Nazi Regime as people without the essential human characteristic of love. Otto Quangel is not heart broken when his only son dies, but rather irritated when his wife says, “… you and that Führer of yours (13)!”  Kluge and Borkhausen take advantage of everyone in their path without the slightest regard for their family or friends. Escherich lives his life for work and nothing more, killing himself after closing the most difficult case of his life. This depiction of Germans is cold and may reflect Fallada’s personal strife, lack of love, and hopelessness in resistance more than that of the actual German people during this time. Interestingly, Fallada’s depiction of individual resistance is weaved together with a web of connections, showing how each character intersects the other, and asking the question: would collective resistance have a greater impact?


I am a screenwriter and story editor based out of Vancouver. I have attended Vancouver Film School and have now joined the amazing Canadian writer's community.

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