Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck illuminates Büchner’s thoughts on society and the pessimistic way in which he views the world. Written in 1837, Woyzeck stems from the beginnings of the realist movement, a wave of art and literature that attempted to showed the world with complete authenticity. With a starkly pessimistic and harsh look at the human experience, Büchner pushes beyond realist themes in Woyzeck as he no longer strives to uphold the balance of good and evil, but rather allows suffering to prevail. Some would say that Büchner’s work is then more rooted in the philosophy and literary movement of naturalism. Naturalism is the belief that the world functions on natural laws and forces and that supernatural beings do not exist (1). This naturalist view aptly embodies Büchner’s feelings toward his own world. Through his use of biblical allusions, frequent reference to animals, and language regarding time and existence, Büchner conveys his disgust for his unjust and nonsensical world.
Büchner paradoxically plays with biblical language to reflect his belief that the world is not influenced by a higher god, but rather that mankind is left to suffer alone without help from a higher power. Büchner’s tragic protagonist, Woyzeck, takes on a Christ-like role as he is tormented physically and psychologically by his thoughts, the Doctor, and even Drum-Major. In the first scene, Woyzeck almost clairvoyantly hallucinates about an apocalypse as “fire [rages] around the sky” ending with “the world [being] dead” (Büchner’s Major Works, 137). We, as the audience, feel sorry for Woyzeck who must endure such torments as apocalyptic hallucinations and a starved diet of only peas. However, our views of the poor protagonist become jaded at the end of the play as Woyzeck kills his wife (a very non-Christ-like act). A similar paradox is created with the character, Marie, Woyzeck’s wife. Marie illusively resembles the Virgin Mary: she is referred to as “Mrs. Virgin” in the scene 4,2 (Büchner’s Major Works, 137), she frequently is seen with her baby – Christian – on her lap and her name so closely matches that of ‘Mary.’ Ironically, this “Virgin Mary” gets killed because of her flirtation with Drum-Major and is frequently called a “whore” and “bitch” throughout Büchner’s play. Büchner’s cynicism toward the human experience is ever-present in these two tragic characters. As they both endure such harsh lives only to kill or be killed in the end of the play, Büchner ironically employs biblical allusions to convey the idea that there is no higher being influencing the world. If God were present, perhaps Woyzeck and Marie, would not turn at the hand of their immoral society, but since God is not present, Woyzeck and Marie are left to their own undoing. In this sense, Büchner’s Woyzeck seems to parallel Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as Vladimir and Estragon wait for a God that never arrives.
Büchner’s disgust for the human experience is also present in the way in which he elevates animals in his play. Büchner comments that animals have a “beastly wisdom [that] put[s] human society to shame” (Büchner’s Major Works, 139). He jabs at humans in saying that “It’s all a matter of upbringing; [a monkey] is no brutish individual like a lot of people” (Büchner’s Major Works, 139). Through his references to animals, Büchner establishes his antipathy for humans in his society in saying that they are less than creatures that do not even act by their own accord.
Lastly, Büchner’s mere language concerning time and existence throughout the play is laden with disgust for the human experience. Through his characters, Büchner expresses his “fear for the world when [he] thinks about eternity” and how “thirty years” left on Earth is an “ungodly amount of time” (Büchner’s Major Works, 141). Büchner believes that “everything goes to hell…man and woman alike” and questions, “why does man exist? … Why doesn’t God blow out the sun so that everything can roll around in lust, man and woman, man and beast” (Büchner’s Major Works, 147). Through this language, we see Büchner’s utter contempt for human existence and his true sentiments on the reality of life.
Do you think Büchner’s views on society would be different today in the age of technology than they were back when he was writing Woyzeck? If so, how and why would they be different (i.e. what would technology do to change Büchner’s mind about his failing society)? Would he feel more positively about the human experience or would technology engender further disgust for mankind?
How might Büchner’s thoughts about human existence manifest in social media today? Do we gain validity and/or solace in our understanding of human existence through social media? Does social media re-affirm existence for some or help others feel a sense of comradery in life?
(1) (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalism-philosophy