Mr. Norris and Communism

Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories consists of two novellas set in Berlin right before and during the rise of the Nazi party in the 1930s, the first of which is The Last of Mr. Norris.  This stories chronicles the friendship between William Bradshaw and Arthur Norris.  Mr. Norris proves to be a mysterious and interesting character, as he is a communist during a time which it is dangerous to be so in Germany.

While Norris holds onto his communist beliefs despite the political dangers they cause him, there are some aspects of his personality that do not completely fit with the communist ideology.  Norris holds a few somewhat aristocratic tendencies as a result of his upbringing, despite his poverty at the time which the novel is set.  Bradshaw states that Norris’ “…spirits always sufficiently indicated the state of his finances,” and when he is better off financially, he is more cheerful (41-42).  He also believes that he is at his best when he is surrounded by the material objects which he desires and revels.  Even though Norris holds aristocratic values to more importance than his communist comrades, he is shown to believe steadfastly that the wealthy should use their resources to help the poor.  This characterization portrays Norris as more of a moderate who resonates with more and joins a radical group than a pure communist.

4 thoughts on “Mr. Norris and Communism

  1. I feel this is a fair summary of Norris. While it may leave out a few traits important to his characterization, the idea of his communist beliefs not following the strict doctrine is an apt understanding of him. I think that this view is a break from the norm that popular history and red scare media of the time created of a dangerous communist. Instead I reminisced to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, showing the diverse communist styles and ideas.

  2. I believe that Norris’ upbringing is what developed his tastes for fine goods and oftentimes frivolous spending habits. When William inquired if he has been a communist for long he responded by saying “I think I may say that I have always felt that, in the deepest sense, we are all brothers.” (53) While Norris may have gotten caught up in a materialistic culture, I believe that he is a communist at heart who is beginning to re-assess his outlook. Hence why he consults the communist party and is sympathetic to their cause. He is not your typical bourgeois gentleman.

  3. Your synopsis of Norris is very complete. However I have to disagree with your characterization of him as a “moderate.” I think he is used more as a critique of the
    “aristocratic” radical of the interwar period. Men like him were seen as interlopers and held with distrut by many of the working class members of the party,

  4. Though Norris is most certainly defined as a communist, perhaps his style of dress, and overall love of material things is a way to conceal this from the public. It has been clear throughout the first part of the book that Norris is a very nervous man, and perhaps his mannerisms and style of dress are part of his effort to appear distanced from the communist party.

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