Summary of Scene Four: The Chinese Hotel. The 24th of August, in the morning.
Skinny and Baboon talk about their boss, Shlink. Skinny wants to know if they are going to start up a new business now? Baboon says that the boss just walks around the harbor checking on passengers leaving for Tahiti. Shlink has stored all his things at the hotel and is feeding Jane for free and stays up all night talking to Marie. Skinny accuses Baboon of letting himself be fired. Now he has to support Shlink’s harem (Jane and Marie). Baboon says that Shlink makes very little money now carrying coals in the city. He turns over his salary to the Gargas. George, on the other hand, has taken all the money and cleared out to Tahiti. He has also rigged a trap for Shlink when the law finds out the same lot of lumber was sold twice. Baboon is betting on Shlink, however, to rebuild his lumber business and be rich again.
Jane enters, half dressed. She says she knew she would always end up in a Chink flophouse. Baboon says she does not know what is in store for her. Behind a partition, Marie speaks to Shlink, asking why he never touches her. She swears she loves him. Jane comments to the men that Marie is carrying on again.
Shlink says he is not good enough for Marie. He doesn’t know anything about virgins. She agrees that his yellow race is evil. He explains his body has gone numb. She asks if it’s because he can’t find anyone to fight him? She asks when he first got this sickness, and he tells her about growing up on a junk in China, working practically as a slave from morning till night.
The Worm enters and tells Shlink there is no trace of George Garga in all of Chicago. Shlink goes out as Chicago is waking up in the morning. Marie says how good it would be to go away. On the prairie there is a fresh breeze. She wants to sleep with a man but doesn’t know how because she has been sawed to pieces inside.
Jane asks Baboon where Shlink has gone, and he answers, “to study the faces of those who are getting out of this town” (p. 45)
Commentary on Scene Four: The Chinese Hotel. The 24th of August, in the morning.
The fight is temporarily on hold while Shlink and his men look for Garga. Meanwhile, they have both Garga’s women and his parents hostage. Marie is in love with Shlink, but he is unable to return her love, explaining he has become very hard. It began with the slavery in China in his childhood. All the people had “the sickness,” as their humanity was trampled. The sickness he speaks of is a spiritual condition of despair. Shlink is suffering from some internal wound and that makes him fight with Garga. Marie listens sympathetically to his tales but is anxious to give herself to a man. While Shlink is numb, she feels fragmented, unable to function properly. Her love for Shlink appears to be masochistic; she is fascinated by him because he is a gangster from an “evil” race. Brecht uses “orientals” as the stereotypes they were portrayed in early detective fiction: inscrutable, evil, immoral, and part of an international underworld. Jane is meanwhile in a hopeless state, disillusioned about her choice to be a prostitute. The Baboon promises her it will get worse.
The action drives down to a darker place where everyone is stuck. Shlink seems to have no energy without the fight, his nearest equivalent to being alive. It is a bleak universe, and there is not much hope. Shlink has reduced himself to slavery again, carrying coals and giving his money to the Gargas. His men don’t understand his actions but wait for him like faithful dogs, knowing he has the ability to get rich again as soon as he lifts his hand.
Summary of Scene Five: The Same Hotel. One month later, the 19th or 20th of September.
The Worm speaks from a hallway into the hotel saloon to the patrons there, saying that Garga had not set sail after all. There he is now in Shlink’s bedroom, “licking his wounds” (p. 46).
George Garga speaks from the bedroom, calling Shlink his “Infernal Bridegroom,” quoting a passage from Rimbaud’s poem, “A Season in Hell.” Manky the sailor speaks in the saloon, saying he once knew a man who was in love with a woman, but he let his family die of hunger so he could spend the money on the woman. Garga is drunk in the bedroom and continues quoting from Rimbaud about being a sinner and exclaiming Shlink is nothing to him.
The Baboon answers Manky in the saloon, saying that his story is nothing compared to what Shlink did. He never had a heart, but he gave up his lumber business “on account of some mad passionate thing” (p. 47). At one time he was a boss; now he is lugging coal. The Worm adds that they are continuing to support Shlink though they are getting tired of it.
Garga in the bedroom continues reciting lines from Rimbaud. Marie comes in with a bag of groceries and sees her brother. He remarks that she looks like a dirty rag. The Worm comments that Garga is drunk and wants to know where Shlink is. The Baboon says he is coming; meanwhile, he has brought Jane, because they are gambling for “the highest stakes” (p. 47). Jane says she does not understand but asks for a drink.
Marie speaks to her brother, reminding him of the days when he was an idol to all the girls, when his only vices were those permitted to men: tobacco, whisky, and women. She tells him someone is taking care of their parents and asks if he knows who it is. He does not answer but harasses her about being in the hotel. Marie says she loves Shlink but she is broken up because she can’t get him to come to her. As she turns, she bumps into Shlink and tells him that she loves him but does not want anything from him.
George comes out of the bedroom and says that Shlink is working hard carrying coals, while he is lying on his back being lazy. Shlink reminds him he has to work to support the Garga family. Garga claims he did not know he was doing this and throws himself despairingly on the bed. Shlink follows him into the bedroom, saying Garga’s laughter is his sunshine.
Garga and Shlink slash each other verbally, and Garga accuses Shlink of waging “a metaphysical battle” (p. 50) in which he is using up all his resources, his family members, while he himself is drifting away in a haze. Garga makes Marie cry by pointing out that she loves Shlink and yet Shlink won’t do anything about it. While Garga continues to recite provocative passages from Rimbaud about prostitutes, Shlink says he will go home with Marie, but Garga gets him to drink with him first.
Shlink turns to Marie and asks her to marry him and says he loves her. Marie runs into the saloon and finds Manky. Shlink asks her to come back and not throw herself away on Manky. Manky promises her a roof over her head. He has a thousand dollars. Shlink promises to honor Marie as his wife if she will go with him.
Garga meanwhile goes into the saloon and insults Jane, while Marie leaves with Manky and Shlink calls out to Marie that he will be waiting for her when she realizes she made a mistake. Garga then asks Shlink for the money from the crooked lumber deal and leaves with Jane and the money, saying he has a plan. Shlink is left alone, with nothing, and his men will not even give him a chair or a bowl of rice, saying his account is overdrawn.
Commentary on Scene Five: The Same Hotel. One month later, the 19th or 20th of September.
This is a very intense and central scene, though difficult to unpack in all its innuendos. The central thread seems to be some sort of homosexual or masochistic attraction between Garga and Shlink, made clear through Garga’s drunken recitals of Rimbaud in Shlink’s bedroom. The very scene could itself be lifted from Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell” where he records his violent break-up with his lover, another French decadent poet, Verlaine. Garga uses Rimbaud’s phrase “Infernal Bridegroom” to refer to Shlink as his demonic husband, while he plays the role of wife. Garga and Shlink torment each other by courting the women around them as a threat. Marie is just a pawn in this scene and tires of it, choosing to go with the sailor Manky just to get out of the conflict between her brother and Shlink. The Baboon says he brings Jane because the stakes are high. Supposedly, he wants to tempt Garga to take Jane back, so that Shlink will be free of the infatuation with Garga and start making money again.
At first, Garga insults Jane and then he decides to get money from Shlink and leave with her. Each man is trying to wound the other most deeply. Garga calls it a metaphysical battle, though, not just a battle for love or money or power. What he means by that is left unclear, but he indicates by this wording that it is not a common conflict. They are both in as far as they can go, risking their entire selves and identities. This sort of intensity reflects the passions of the French Symbolist poets—Rimbaud and his circle—who wanted to reach the ultimate by tasting every sort of experience to the limit, heavenly or hellish. The scene is chaotic with people alternately raving about love and hate and switching partners, like Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the lovers are all confused about who they are in love with. This scene, however, is not a comedy. It is more like a scene from Dante’s hell where each person vainly tries to touch or love another but is unable to make a connection or be satisfied.
It is touch and go here, for Garga seems to be emotionally or sexually enslaved to Shlink in the beginning. By the end, however, it looks like Shlink is the one left with nothing. Garga believes once again that he has won by walking out with Jane and the money. He resists Shlink’s domination. He and his sister are now clear of the gangster, and he seems to have further plans to defeat Shlink’s entanglements with his family.
Summary of Scene Six: Lake Michigan. End of September.
Marie and Shlink meet in the woods. Marie complains that she has thrown herself away on Manky. Shlink says he loves her. She says she is cold and shriveling and numb. The whole time she was with Manky she was thinking of Shlink. She loves him and feels guilty for wasting her body on Manky though Shlink didn’t want it. He tells her she will feel clean again. She doesn’t really know if she can love; she just wants a roof over her head. They walk away as Manky enters.
Manky has been trailing them and wonders where Marie is. He decides he is too weak to defend himself, so he must attack. He pulls a gun from his pocket. He talks himself out of committing violence and leaves.
Marie and Shlink return from making love in the woods. They are arguing. She says she won’t go with Shlink, because the interracial relationship would be disgusting. He counters by saying that her soul is suffocated with Manky. She knows she is nothing to Shlink, but she loves him, and yes, she will take his money and live off it. Shlink gives her money, and she says it’s a business transaction, and she is a whore.
Commentary on Scene Six: Lake Michigan. End of September.
Marie and Shlink become lovers in this scene, but she ends up comparing the experience to the one with Manky: both were a “sacrifice” (p. 59). She got what she wanted but is not satisfied. Now, in a more rational frame of mind she decides that having an affair with a Malay is disgusting, but he tells her she can’t be alone. No matter whom she is with, Marie feels like a whore, like she is sleeping with someone to get a roof over her head. She does not believe Shlink loves her. She is an object, perhaps a means for him to get at Garga. She agrees that she needs the money and accepts it from him. Manky is jealous but too weak to take action.
One critic has compared Marie’s opening description of the scene as similar to an Expressionist painting. Marie insists the trees in the woods look like they are covered with human excrement. She is observing the scene through distorted emotions. She feels dirty and projects this image onto the landscape. Instead of seeing the vast expanse of Lake Michigan and the forest, she feels closed in by the sky. Shlink tells her she is suffocating, and she is. She does not know where to turn. Having a man is not the answer to life. She describes Manky as being afraid of her passion, and she feels Shlink does not have any for her. She questions whether she herself feels love or merely wants a home.