In The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood tells the story of Sally Bowles, a beautiful young woman who aspired to become an actress. Isherwood’s relationship with Bowles was first and foremost paternal, though near the end of the story his feelings for her grow stronger. Despite his romantic feelings for her, it is clear from the start that she is concerned with finding a man who will be able to support her lavish lifestyle. Based on Isherwood’s descriptions of women in “Sally Bowles,” the majority of them are considered to be dependent, immature and incapable of making their own decisions. Misogyny was a mindset that was prevalent throughout Nazi Germany, as Hitler emphasized that women’s main concern should be motherhood.
In Nazi Germany, women were highly encouraged to take the traditional route, and focus on giving back to the state through childbirth and motherhood rather than working for a living. The gender roles at this time were incredibly rigid, and this is clear in The Berlin Stories through both Sally’s behavior, and the misogynist comments of men. For example, in the letter that Klaus wrote Sally, he said, “My dear little girl, you have adored me too much. If we should continue to be together, you would soon have no will and no mind of your own…You must be brave, Sally, my poor darling child” (Isherwood, 41). In this scene, and throughout the book, Sally is perceived as a helpless child, and belittled by the majority of men that she meets. Isherwood’s short novel about Sally Bowles further emphasizes the misogyny that was prevalent in Nazi Germany.
Was Isherwood’s paternal relationship with Sally condescending? Or did she truly need his guidance to prevent her from making poor decisions?