The Berlin Stories: Mr. Norris Changes Trains

The Berlin Stories by Christoper Isherwood are two stories set in Berlin in the 1930s. The first story, entitled Mr. Norris Changes Trains, is based on the relationship between William Bradshaw, the protagonist, and Arthur Norris, the mysterious stranger he meets on the train. The story follows their relationship and the gradual development of Norris’ character. Norris is soon revealed to be a communist and ex-convict. His past and his present tend to create financial and political troubles for Norris, especially in the changing climate of the newly Nazi state of Germany.

In one scene Norris is shown to be giving a speech at an underground communist party meeting. His speech is about British Imperialism in Asia, following the general theme of Chinese social problems at the time (53-56). This scene is fascinating as it provides an interesting insight into the communist party in Germany. Despite the increasingly hostile environment for communism under the Nazi government, the leading members are organizing conferences on international problems rather than finding domestic solutions. This provides an insight into their naivety and the relative importance they place on theoretical Marxism, rather than their ability or desire to adapt communism to the German situation. Additionally, this may also provide an example of the inability for the different sections of socialism to work within a domestic framework, forcing them to find a common ground in vague demands for World Revolution. If this is true, it may explain their inability to fully capitalize on their popular support before the Great Depression.

4 thoughts on “The Berlin Stories: Mr. Norris Changes Trains

  1. The topic of international communism not focused on German regional issues is a testament to the communist goal of a global proletariat uprising against capitalism. The concern about British imperialism as a threat against a common social upheaval is telling. I wonder if this accurately portrays the goals of German communists, and if this explains in any way why they failed to gain popular support and have a communist coup in Germany as Marx predicted it would happen. While Nazi Germany was cracking down very hard on communists, I also find it interesting that in this story communists were able to remain actively pursuing this doctrine.

  2. At the underground communist meeting Norris was viewed with a skeptical glance at first because he was an Englishmen. Although Norris was a “bourgeois gentleman,” the crowd still listened to what he had to say and ultimately applauded his loyalty to the cause and outstanding use of rhetoric. I believe that the communist party in Germany, and on the international scale, wished to include such people into their ranks because they are first-hand examples of how classism can be toppled; simultaneously from the bottom and from the top.

  3. I found your point about the focus of the German communist party. Which was on international issues rather then the problems of Germany very interesting. I believe that the ideology as a whole cared about making this a workers paradise through the whole world as much as the issues of said home country. Communism can also be characterized as the most controlling of political ideologies and it forced the individual parties to listen and to focus on the desires of the Russian party more then the needs of the communist party in a specific country

  4. One can see how communism was problematic during Nazi Germany, as it was not focused on internal issues. It seems that the biggest setback of the movement in Germany was that it was too idealistic, and therefore had trouble gaining the support of the masses. The communists in Europe at this time were very determined, just as Norris was, however, based on the description of the speech about British Imperialism in Asia, these ideas were somewhat unrealistic.

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