Summary of Scene 7: The Gargas’ Living Room. The 29th of September, 1912.
The room is full of new furniture, and John and Mae, George and Jane, and Manky are all dressed in new clothes at the wedding dinner of George and Jane. John Garga praises the man that made this all possible for them without mentioning Shlink’s name, just referring to him as “that man” (p. 61). Mae remarks that it is strange he can make so much money by carrying coals. George comments that he is the one who makes the money, but no one seems to hear.
Mae says the wedding was a bit rushed. George feels good with all the money, and the steaks for dinner. He says they should put a wreath around the photo of Marie, beloved sister, and “the black wind” won’t blow on them here (p. 62). Jane tells George he is raving. Mae worries because he is referring to the fight with Shlink.
Just then, Shlink enters, and Garga offers him a plate, while Jane tells Shlink how the sheriff married them that morning. Shlink replies to Garga, “You’re a vengeful man” (p. 62). Garga asks where Marie is and apologizes that there is no chair for Shlink. Garga says he has turned over a new leaf and will return to work at the Lending Library, and now his relationship with Shlink is over. After a silence, Shlink asks Garga if he would read the letter from Broost and Co. to whom they fraudulently sold lumber, at Garga’s instigation. George reads the letter, and Mae asks him why his face looks strange.
After a while, George says, “the bad years were the best years,” and then announces he intends to go to jail (p. 64). John asks if all the money came from some shady deal between George and Shlink, and takes off his new jacket and throws it on the floor. Jane asks how long the jail sentence will be, and Shlink replies that someone will have to take the rap for a crooked lumber deal. He offers to do it to save the Garga family. Mae begs her son to take the offer, but George replies they do no understand. Shlink points out that if he goes to jail, the family will fold, and George says he sets them all free; he intends to kill his enemy.
Shlink says it will only mean three years for Garga, and he will go about his business as if he never met him. He leaves. George says he will phone the police, and Jane says she will go back to the Chinese Bar. Mae decides that the situation is so bad, she will leave too. Now John sits alone in the dark.
Suddenly, Marie enters and says she has some money. Her father scolds her about where the money probably came from but takes it. Marie leaves. When George comes back from calling the police, he finds his mother gone, but he tells his father about the letter he has written and will keep in his pocket. It accuses Shlink of raping his sister and propositioning his wife, Jane. He tells his father he will serve the three years in jail and just before he is released he will send the letter to the police. Shlink will be wiped out by a lynch mob.
Commentary on Scene 7: The Gargas’ Living Room. The 29th of September, 1912.
This is another puzzling scene with the Garga family (and the audience) not understanding the motivations of Shlink and George Garga in their continuing battle. Their moves are contrary to common sense. Why are they arguing over who gets to take the jail sentence, as if that will give the victory over the other?
Garga thinks he has defeated Shlink by hastily marrying Jane and taking back the support of his family, using the illegal money. Shlink’s remark that Garga is vengeful implies that the marriage is meant to hurt Shlink and shut him out of Garga’s life. He produces his own checkmate with the letter about the crooked deal and the threat of the police. Garga has purposely framed Shlink by making the deal, and Shlink never objected. Now he meekly offers to go to jail.
Shlink’s men do not understand his behavior any more than Garga’s family understands his. The two men are not only carrying on a war, but they do it on some illogical or secret grounds known only to themselves. Shlink the gangster always yields and acts like a victim around Garga, and Garga acts more and more cruelly and aggressively to hurt Shlink. It’s as if they exchanged identities, or perhaps, as Garga reads it, he sees Shlink’s moves as passively aggressive. If Shlink goes to jail, he knows Garga will suffer guilt and continue to be connected to him. Garga is trying to cut the connection forever, and to avoid being obligated to Shlink, he takes the jail rap himself. However, ironically, he keeps the fight alive with his own planned revenge at the end of his jail term. He will incite a lynch mob to get Shlink for living with a white girl.
As critics point out, the details of the plot are not any more logical than the plot itself. It is not a historical fact that lynch mobs were stringing up “Chinks” on the Milwaukee Bridge, as Garga later states, but this is Brecht’s mythical Chicago, a lawless gangsterland.
Summary of Scene 8: C. Shlink’s Private Office. The 20th of October, 1915, at 1 P.M.
It is three years later and Shlink dictates two letters to a clerk. The first is to Marie Garga, who is applying for a secretarial job in his firm. The letter replies that he does not want to have any dealings with her or her family. The second letter is to a Real Estate Broker, explaining that his company is now in a stable position, and he can accept their offer.
An anonymous man suddenly interrupts, telling Shlink he has only three minutes to give him some information, and he has two minutes to act on it. Half an hour ago, the police received a letter from George Garga that incriminates him. The police are coming for him now. He asks for a thousand dollars for this information, and Shlink gives it to him. Shlink packs a suitcase, telling the clerk to go on with business as long as possible. He will be back. Then he leaves.
Commentary on Scene 8: C. Shlink’s Private Office. The 20th of October, 1915, at 1 P.M.
From this scene three years later, it is obvious Shlink has tried to return to the life he led before meeting Garga. In fact, he refuses to employ Marie or have anything to do with her family. He has built up his business again to a stable point. He feels he has wiped out the past. The informant changes his reality in an instant, and suddenly he is on the run and in battle with George Garga once more. He tells the clerk he will be back, but this is the beginning of his end.
Summary of Scene 9: A Barroom Across the Street From the State Prison. The 28th of October 1915.
Jane, Marie, and Shlink’s former gang members await for Garga’s release in a bar near the prison. There is an angry crowd outside. The Baboon comments on the howling mob worked up because of the Garga case in which Shlink, an oriental, put a man in prison and assaulted his family. Even though Shlink escaped, it means his end. The Worm objects that it takes a lot of hits to get a man, and he puts a nickel in the nickelodeon for background music to tell the story of George Wishoo, the dog, born in Ireland. The dog was taken to England where a woman tortured him. He escaped and was chased all over by people and other dogs. He lost a leg and walked with a limp. He found refuge with an old man. He died after a life of disappointments, but in peace. He asks the listeners if they know what the moral of the story is?
The Snubnose asks whose picture is on the search warrant? The Worm answers it’s the Malay (Shlink). He had gone bankrupt and then built up his company again, making a lot of enemies. He is being hunted now for sex crimes. The Worm asks Jane when her man is getting out of prison. Jane stumbles around answering. She isn’t sure. The Snubnose asks who is the girl in the indecent dress and is told she is the victim, the man’s sister. Jane says her sister-in-law Marie pretends not to know her but points out that Marie rarely came home at night in all this time. The Baboon says, yes, because the Malay ruined her.
Marie is in another corner of the bar holding the banknotes from her prostitution and lets them drop into a bucket, talking to herself, saying she did it all for him. Now she is shedding herself, giving away her purity.
Garga enters with his former employer Maynes and three other men. He wants them to see for themselves how is wife is living. Jane is cold and incoherent as she speaks to George, saying she would have stayed home if she had known it was the day of his release. He introduces Maynes for whom he will go back to work. The other men live on their street. He wants them as witnesses.
Garga greets his sister Marie and tells Jane they should go home now. She says she has not cleaned the place up. He says they will make a new start; his fight is over because he has hounded his enemy out of town. Jane contradicts him, saying that things will get worse because they can get worse. She admits she has been living with the Baboon. Maynes exclaims how terrible it is! George tells her it is her last chance to come home with him. She refuses and leaves with Baboon, the pimp. Garga says he’ll leave the door open for her.
The Worm comes over to Garga and remarks that the remnant of the Garga family is here and that he would probably want to know what happened to the mother. He saw her scrubbing floors in a warehouse, looking serene. Garga asks the Worm if he once worked for the lumber man who is being hunted? The Worm says he never saw the man. As The Worm leaves, he puts money in the nickelodeon, which plays the “Ave Maria.”
The Salvation Army officer is sitting at a table reading the list of drinks aloud. Snubnose teases him about knowing the names of drinks. Everyone laughs.
Garga explains to the men that the yellow man must be wiped out because of his sister Marie, who is miserable. He tells Marie it is good to see her face again, but she says it isn’t her anymore. He tells her that even though she is soiled, he loves her, but she says she loves the way she was. She admits she is a prostitute, and Maynes is shocked. He says that Garga has suffered great injustice. The Salvation Army officer comments that “people are too durable” (p. 77).
There is a shot, and the bystanders rush over to the Salvation Army officer who has shot himself with a gun. They lay him out on a table, asking what they can do for him. Garga notes that he has not succeeded in killing himself. Marie recognizes him as the one Shlink spat on in the face.
Garga complains to Marie that “his [Shlink’s] skin is too thick” (p. 78). There is no way to kill him. She asks if Shlink is always in his mind, and Garga says yes. Marie replies, “Loving, hating: how they bend us down” (p. 78). Garga asks if she still loves him and she says yes. He brags that he has destroyed Shlink without putting in an appearance. They will never speak again. The saloonkeeper points out that the lumber yard is on fire. Garga tells Marie they will live together again, and then, everything will be normal, “now that the craze has left me that was going to take me down” (p. 79).
Marie leaves and Garga opens the bar door, hearing the howling of the lynching party. Shlink suddenly enters the bar. He tells Garga they should go now; the crowd is looking for him, but they haven’t settled their score yet. They leave together.
Commentary on Scene 9: A Barroom Across the Street From the State Prison. The 28th of October 1915.
Garga has managed to work everyone up about his innocence and the guilt of Shlink, by framing a minority man with sex crimes against white women. Shlink is being hunted by the lynching parties. They have set fire to his lumber yard, but he risks his life to find Garga for a final showdown.
Shlink’s former gang members, The Worm and The Baboon, pretend they don’t know him. Shlink is alone. It is obvious, however, that both Garga and Marie are still obsessed with Shlink, whether they call it love or hate. Garga has lost all admirable traits and is a hypocrite in this scene. He tries to use Jane and Marie in the service of his revenge. They both subvert his act by admitting they are prostitutes. Maynes and the other men do not feel sorry for the women, but tell Garga he is the one who is the victim and feel sorry for him. Garga uses cultural stereotypes to his advantage.
Jane and Marie tell the truth, seeing through Garga’s attempts to pretend he still has a family. Jane tells him, “people aren’t as simple as you think, George, even when they’re almost dead and buried” (p. 74). Marie says she may be a whore, but men “live off our bruises” (p. 77). Marie says her old face is gone and can never come back. She seems half crazed, like Ophelia, when she drops her prostitution money into a bucket to purify herself, claiming she did it for “him.” Who is him? Her father? Shlink?
Garga mistakenly thinks his action will finally end the fight, if he chases Shlink away or if the mob kills him. He tells Marie he had to include all of Chicago in the fight to keep from going on with it. He tells her their life will return to what it was, now that the craze that was taking him all the way down is lifting. He thus admits that the fight is a sort of addiction. Jane knows it isn’t that simple and warns him things will get worse.
The Salvation Army officer who tries to kill himself fails, because “people are too durable,” a foreshadowing that Shlink is not done in yet either. People don’t so much find violent ends as just wind down like an old clock. Jane and Marie and Mae lose their faces, their selves, but they just go on. It is only Garga who pretends he can solve things or that things can be as they once were.
The inserted story of the dog, George Wishoo, and the music of the Salvation Army or nickelodeon, are techniques Brecht later expanded upon. These musical bits or added stories interrupt but comment on the action. The story of the dog reflects on how “people are too durable.” People too live like dogs that are constantly abused, yet they endure and die at peace after a troubled life.
Summary of Scene 10: Deserted R. R. Workers’ Tent in the Gravel Pits by Lake Michigan. The 19th of November 1915, about 2 o’clock in the morning.
Shlink and Garga are alone and talk. They have been here for three weeks, trying to come to terms. Garga says Shlink is a born fighter. Shlink points out that Garga has lost his innocence and is now hard like a fossil. Garga asks Shlink if he has always been alone, and he says yes. Garga tells him, at the end of his life Shlink fell for the desire to touch someone else, through hate. Shlink congratulates him on understanding that they have been comrades “in a metaphysical action” (p. 81). Shlink admits that before coming here, he made his business over to Garga. He shows him the ledger, which implies he set fire to his own lumber yard. Garga says he can’t sleep any more and will be glad when Shlink is gone. Shlink tells him not to back out on what once was: he admits he loves Garga. Garga says he is disgusted and frightened; Shlink is old.
Shlink gives a long speech about how alone people are, so alone, you can never really hate or communicate. He envies animals that live simply and just tear each other to pieces.
Garga says he has been listening to Shlink for three weeks and is tired of his voice. It is time for Shlink to take off his shoes and give them to him. He declares the fight is at an end because it has used up its fuel. The younger man wins, and Garga’s feet are cold.
Shlink asks if Garga is leaving to betray him, and Garga says yes. So, asks Shlink, there will never be an outcome to the fight, or any understanding between us? Garga says no, but he will get away with his life and go to New York. He quotes Rimbaud about how he will come back “with limbs of iron” (p. 84). Shlink finally decides Garga is not worth the fight. They continue insulting one another, and Shlink says Garga does not understand. Shlink wanted the fight itself, not for the body, but for the soul.
Garga says the soul is nothing; it is only important to be the one to come out alive. He knows he can’t win, but he can stamp Shlink into the ground. He leaves and Shlink falls down. Shlink rises and when he sees Garga is gone, he starts after him, begging him not to give up.
Shlink turns as if he might drown himself, but suddenly Marie appears. He tells her she will be lynched too if she stays. He wants to be alone for the last minute of his life. She tells him he can hide in the forest. Marie says this is where she has to be.
Shlink sits down, takes a drink and says, “I Wang Yen, known as Shlink . . . fifty-four years of age, ended three miles south of Chicago, leaving no inheritors” (p. 87). Having taken poison, he complains he is growing cold and asks Marie to put a cloth on his face. When the lynching party arrives, Marie announces he is dead and does not want anyone to look at him.
Commentary on Scene 10: Deserted R. R. Workers’ Tent in the Gravel Pits by Lake Michigan. The 19th of November 1915, about 2 o’clock in the morning.
This last scene between the antagonists reveals their deepest motives. With both George and Marie hovering around Shlink at the end, it becomes clear it has been a sort of love/hate triangle between the three. Marie loved Shlink who loved Garga. But Garga has become too hard to love or hate. Garga claims he wins because he is younger and can outlive Shlink. He ends up with his shoes and whatever is left of his business and an ambition to go on to New York to bigger contests in order to win. Garga understands that Shlink was fighting to touch someone, to get rid of loneliness, but he rejects Shlink’s love or hate. Shlink wants Garga to express some kind of feeling for him at the end, and when he won’t, he says maybe sometime Garga will get an answer and think of him.
Shlink takes the spotlight in the last scene as one who tries tragically to break out of human isolation. Garga has become what Shlink accuses him of: a fossil in amber, though he keeps bragging about his youth and life. His only ambition has been to destroy Shlink, but in the end, Shlink destroyed Garga’s humanity. Garga symbolically wears Shlink’s shoes, now as ruthless as the gangster was. Marie has more intuitive understanding of Shlink, but he is unable to love her. She also has been destroyed in this contest. In fact there has been a lot of collateral damage. Did the fight mean anything, or is it just a depiction of the human condition? It is a bleak picture Brecht shows us.
One of the playwright’s later well-known practices is used here. Shlink speaks poetic stage directions to an audience out aloud at the beginning of the scene: “The everlasting roar of Chicago has faded away. Seven times three days the skies have grown pale . . . Now it’s here at last: the silence that can’t conceal anything” (p. 81). Again, when Garga leaves, Shlink speaks impersonal stage directions or an imagined obituary as he tries to decide how to end his life: “The nineteenth of November! Three miles south of Chicago. A westerly wind. Drowned, four minutes before moonrise, while catching fish” (p. 86).
Summary of Scene 11: Private Office of the Deceased C. Shlink. Eight days later.
George, Marie, and John Garga survey the burned out lumber lot. There are signs everywhere: “This business for sale.” John says that George was a fool to let the place burn down, but now they will all stick together. George says no, he is leaving. He asks if Marie will get a job. She says she will work but not scrubbing floors like her mother. Marie says they have to go because she has not yet found a room for them.
Just as she is about to leave with her father, Manky enters to say he wants to buy the business. He and Garga negotiate, and Garga says he is throwing Marie into the deal. She says her father has to stay with her too, and Manky agrees. The men draw up an agreement and sign it. John says good-by to his son and tells him he can always come back if New York is too rough. Garga takes the money and says the famous last lines of the play: “To be alone—that’s a good thing to be. The chaos has been used up. And it was the best time” (p. 90).
Commentary on Scene 11: Private Office of the Deceased C. Shlink. Eight days later.
The Garga family gets something from the ashes of their dealings with Shlink, enough to get their start again. George basically sells his sister in the bargain as well, but she does not seem to mind, since she does not want to scrub floors, and she won’t have to support herself and her father through prostitution anymore, though she has made it plain that marriage is the same thing. It is made clear that the mother is not coming back. She has found her own peace being alone, as her son also wants to be. This is ironic that Garga affirms being alone, even as Shlink tried to escape it. Shlink hints, however, that perhaps one day Garga will think differently about all this, perhaps when he is older and maybe won’t value being alone as much. Maybe he will understand Shlink better then.
Meanwhile, Garga exults in being young, alone, and going out for another adventure. It is the end of this particular life in Chicago, because “the chaos is all used up.” This does not affirm there was any purpose to all this action; it is just finished. Why does he say it was the best time? He indicated to Marie earlier that conflict is addicting. It makes one feel alive. He has been through an intense experience, and he does not seem to mind the cost of it, the way Marie does. He has no regrets. The last lines sound like another line from Rimbaud, although they are not in quotation marks. It sounds like something a decadent poet would say, exulting in experience at any price, and Garga has been fond of that pose all along.