The Characters We Hate to Love


A Moral Criticism/Dramatic Construction reading of Sam Sackett’s Adolf Hitler in Oz

By Lynn Perretta

“The art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.” – Adolf Hitler

“But he was determined to become its supreme ruler. … He did it once, and he could do it again. He could unite the Ozites against the non-meat people as once he had united the Germans against the Jews.” – Adolf Hitler in Oz

 

 

What if the conspiracy theories were right?

Hitler did not die in Berlin to a self-inflicted gunshot. Hitler had a double and that double is who died with Eva Braun as the Russians entered Berlin and the Chancellery.

Adolf Hitler in Oz considers this and adds to it a unique alternate history. Hitler, seeking to fake his own death, plans everything, down to his new bride poisoning herself. He shoots his double, making the wound appear self-inflicted. His plan is simple, to use a new time machine created for him to go into the future, where he will be able to rise to power once more.

Only the time machine is one last betrayal and he is sent not into the future but – to the Land of Oz

Once there, he finds himself among the absurdly simple. The land is strange. Some suffer in poverty while others seem to have been granted high status. Seeing parallels to his own Germany, he devises a plan to take over Oz, and begins to choose who will help him rise to power.

Eyes You Do Not Want to Look Through

In a story, the main character tends to be the lens for the reader. Whether an everyman, a noble, a magical creature, or a thief, the character is given some trait or set of traits with which the reader can identify. Through the character, the reader learns about the world, develops likes, dislikes, and prejudices, and becomes engaged in the story.

It is strange to read a protagonist you know is – well, a terrible person. There is also a strange kind of release that you feel almost instantly. You go into the story knowing that you have no emotional investment in the character, so as you watch the absurd happen to him, you allow yourself to be amused, hoping things can just get worse for him, without feeling bad about yourself for it.

This fits with what Aristotle called this Catharsis. It is essentially an emotional release, allowing the reader to experience a feeling safely through someone else. We are told (rightly) that we should not enjoy the suffering of others. We do sometimes, especially when someone we perceive as “bad” has something bad happen to them in turn. We see this most often when people call for a criminal to suffer the same pain that he inflicted on others. Some, when called out on such behavior, make their apologies and when we join in, we often feel bad after.

Fiction allows us to experience this desire safely. We know that events are not being inflicted upon a real person. We have, then, no guilt for what happens. We can simply enjoy the pain presented to us, experiencing a form of justice that we cannot and perhaps do not want to see in the real world.

Hitler is the anti-identifier. If a main character is the lens for the reader, this character is – should be – just the opposite. Strangely, though, the lack of empathy the reader has with the character projects the story for the reader just as brightly as it would with a sympathetic character. Without the comfort of a character we want to understand and empathize with, the world seems strange and sometimes silly. In a story where the world is supposed to be absurd, such a character as the lens is perfect. The reader feels as the main character feels, disoriented and disbelieving, without having to project themselves into the role of that character.

The reader is along for the ride with a frienemy.

There is a danger, though, to this kind of character. While we start out lacking empathy, as we watch him deal with the absurd and realize it is absurd ourselves, we start to – agree with him. It does not take long for us to think, to wonder, what happens if he is successful. We almost root for him, not because we want such a person to be successful, but because we are curious now.

Things We May Not Want to Admit to

No one wants to say “I like this book with Adolf Hitler as the main character” but it is good. If you imagine the protagonist as anyone else, then it is plain to see that the story is well-written. It reads like a children’s story told to adults, which is how it is supposed to read – this is the Land of Oz, after all. It is written simply with fast pacing and the right balance of description, characterization, and motion to keep you reading from chapter to chapter.

Our hesitation at approaching the book is not the story, but the character in it.

We are afraid of Hitler. We are afraid of emulating him. We are afraid to warn when others do the same. There is even an internet law for this: Godwin’s Law. The idea is simple. If you have to resort to comparing your opponent to Hitler, then you have lost your argument. The law holds true even if you are correct in comparing your opponent to Hitler. Adolf Hitler is still a polarizing figure and just the name is emotionally charged. Using the comparison, even when true, short circuits the argument and only draws out base, negative emotions rather than continued logical discourse.

It is amusing, then, to see a story that forces us not only to face Hitler, but to face him as the protagonist. We cannot run from him. We cannot hide from him. He is there, on the page, and if we wish to continue the story, we must own up to his place in that story.

We Can Learn from Him

Perhaps there is a lesson. While we do not want to emulate or celebrate the man, we cannot deny his place, no matter how dark, in history. We also cannot deny the influence that he and his ideas had on his people in his own time, and how that still echoes today.

This story follows Hitler’s rise to power in Oz as he seeks to overthrow the Queen and rule. We see him use everything from trickery to fostering an “us vs. them” mentality. He turns Otherness around so that people like the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, referred to as “non-meat” people, are made out to be over-privileged at the expense of the meat-people. It is his Aryan rhetoric again, this time taking advantage of the struggles of the people of Oz and building in them a false sense of entitlement at the expense of others.

We can scoff at the people of Oz who follow him, just as we might shake our heads and wonder how Germans once followed him. If we pay attention to our own reaction to the story, however, it is easy to see. As we read the story and begin to identify with his skepticism about Oz, his confusion, and sometimes even his wonder, we slowly begin to do something we never thought possible. We root for him, even if only a little and briefly until we remind ourselves of who he is.

If a simple story can do that to us as the reader, with the benefit of history and knowing his atrocities, what must it have been like for people who did not know what he would do with the power they gave him?

Told in simple language, as though it were being spoken or read aloud, the allegory here is innocent and safe. We are wrapped in the fantasy of Oz and the kind memories it brings back of Dorothy, a Wizard with more parlor tricks than magic, and a beautiful witch who liked to use veiled insults. We would still be wise to heed its warnings. It is always good to strive for better and to fight for rights and equality. One should be wary, though, when someone who does not share one’s plight tries to convince you of wrongs you never realized before.

…….

Read more about Moral Criticism and Dramatic Construction at Perdue OWL.

You can purchase Adolf Hitler in Oz on Amazon.

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