‘Do Stay, Giraffe’ by Wolfgang Borchert: Short Story Analysis
‘Do Stay, Giraffe’ by German short story writer Wolfgang Borchert is a bold story of how amid terrible darkness, a mysteriously tall man and a prostitute get intimate with each other. The tall man is nicknamed ‘giraffe’ by the young prostitute because he is tall. The man could have been a German soldier during the Nazi regime. He could also have been a German spy. However, it is clear from the atmosphere created by the writer that the tall man is a shady character with a murky past. He has certainly killed in the past and most probably will kill again. He gets tempted by the presence of the young prostitute and goes to her dismal lodging. He feels remorse for doing so. So ashamed is he of his act in the ‘darkness’ that he leaves her without saying a proper goodbye.
Wolfgang Borchert was a bookseller and actor before becoming involved in the Second World War. He was a criticizer of the Nazi regime and was imprisoned several times for having such views. The darkness of this story likely stems from the association of his homeland with the terrible darkness of Nazism. Germans, those for and against the Nazis, suffered terribly during the war; it was not a pleasant time. It was a time of barbarity, concealment, and silent fear. I would like to draw your attention to the beautiful lyrical phrases used by the writer in this story to describe the tall man and the prostitute as they met on the station platform.
- The girl has a red mouth which means it is coated with lipstick. She is done up with cheap makeup and falls head over heels in love with the tall man whom she calls a giraffe.
- She knows he has cigarettes and asks him for some as an icebreaker. She can smell tobacco on his person. The Second World War was a tough time, and cigarettes were a rarity when it was most wanted.
- The tall man very categorically knows what the prostitutes in Germany are like. They are hungry because they have no food to eat and so have to sell themselves to others. They are always naked under their coats as well as in their consciences. Lastly, they all are done up with cheap makeup, making everything seem like it was fine, just like the Nazis were making it seem that all was well.
- The girl keeps on calling the tall man a giraffe. She coaxes him to take advantage of the darkness around them, which is the darkness of the night, and come to bed with her. Little does she know that it is the general darkness at the railway station and in the tall man’s psyche that makes him want to go to her lodging.
- The tall man is sexually repulsed as well as attracted by the prostitute. He teases her that he will catch her dress after kissing her and loathes the way she smiles at him with a grin of vulgarity.
- The writer uses three simple words to describe their short intimacy – hands, faces, and lips. This is a very tactile point that says so much in such apparent paucity of words.
- The tall man loves the scent of the prostitute’s hair which smells like wet twigs. He is tempted by lust, and the comfort of a person to love him, to stay with her. He can make out she will die. He has seen her naked and is aware that she is starving.
- He leaves her, ashamed that he was tempted enough to leave the station. It is the silent cry or unknown vague cry of the train coming into the station that makes him get up in a hurry. He is naked and so is she. His chest is cold because of fear of the past as well as the future. Her breast is cold because she can never become one person’s true love and also because she was slowly dying.
They part as the girl kept calling the tall man Giraffe. She begs him to stay but he has to reenter the darkness. The writer Borchert in this story makes use of the finest forms of visual, auditory, and tactile imagery to make us comprehend the real darkness that had settled down upon Germany during the Nazi regime. The stations are empty without passengers. There is no hope and the will to live has disappeared into the claws of darkness that is the ‘void’. He repeats the word ‘void’ indicating ‘emptiness’ several times for emphasis. Germany was thought to be the center of the world, ‘all roads lead to Germany’. However, as the war was progressing and so many people were dying, it seemed to look like Germany was a station at the end of the world, beyond which was a black void.
The tall man compares himself to a fish. His cry of horror is like that of a fish and not just any fish, but a solitary fish. He had to think only of himself and of his sanity, even in this darkness, this dense gross darkness. His ‘guilt’ or ‘guilty past’ seems like a dark mounting tide that is compared to a snake that hisses, and a bat that has dark wings. I find this very ingenious, making a tide seem like a snake and a bat.
The darkness is a surety that something worse than death stalks the movements of the tall man. He seems to be desperate to catch a particular train. Whether he enters it or goes back to the prostitute is left to conjecture. Most likely he didn’t do either, because he had nothing else to live for as he was being stalked by sinister darkness, which is the symbol of the terrible deeds he had done and was going to do in the future. He is a fish who is drowned in the sea. Germany was Borchert’s country but he never saw eye to eye with the Nazis and so was also drowning in a darkness that he wanted no part of.
Pathos, dismay, and the unforgiving silence echoes its way throughout the story making it more haunting in the minds of readers. This is a unique way of writing a story that can never get out of the mind of a lover of short stories.
I enjoyed analyzing this short story by Wolfgang Borchert. This is the first time I am reading something written by him. I hope to get a hand on his collection of short stories and will read and review them here on my blog. This is a very haunting story, more haunting that a paranormal tale because this is the reality of fleeting ‘no strings attached’ relationships that are created in desperate and dismal circumstances. Get your copy of this short story today.
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