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Daydreams And Nightmares: Paradoxical Melancholy And Sally Bowles In Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin

3388 words - 14 pages

What comes almost as a fascinating insight in Sally’s world of songs, lovers, cigarettes and lonesomeness is a magnified view of the city, where destitution predominates and one never fails to turn a deaf ear, to the midnight calls from the street corners. Isherwood ponders in the opening lines of Goodbye to Berlin, this idea of being a disjointed wanderer upon a sensitive landscape. In the section, ‘Sally Bowles’, Isherwood traces acutely the problematic disposition of a woman, who also breathes the foreign air of the city and decides to live. If that is all it takes to be herself. In this paper I intend to look into the changing dialectics of hedonism and melancholia that traces the structure of Sally’s mind and experience. Her fragility, desperation, neuroses and her ingenious art to conceal them all, provides a fitting prelude to the reigning socio-cultural structure of Berlin under the Nazi regime.
In Mourning and Melancholia (1917), Freud distinguishes ‘melancholia’ from ‘mourning’ and charges it with pathological implications. He states that unlike the physical manifestation of grief, in the form of lamenting over the lost object in ‘mourning’, the melancholic is in a perennial state of grief without any repercussive manifestation. Sally Bowles, the central character of Christopher Isherwood’s semi autobiographical novel, Goodbye to Berlin, almost immediately from the beginning, fits into this role of the melancholic. The introduction of Sally in Fritz’s apartment, is brilliantly significant in understanding her uncertain air of melancholy. Fritz broods over his unsuccessful love and Sally comes to his rescue with an assertion, ‘I believe the trouble with you is that you’ve never really found the right woman’. What becomes acutely significant, is a realisation for the readers, Sally’s observation is ironically suggestive of her own sense of loneliness and the complete absence of tenderness that she longs for. She remarks, ‘Why are men always such beasts?’ paradoxically asserting to implement her sadness to procure a living. She refuses to allow her loneliness to disrupt her. Instead, she incorporates all her vituperated emotions to acquire an agency to live.
Sally came to Berlin, she recollects to the author–narrator, to work as an actress with the UFA. We are almost immediately reminded of Erich Pommer’s production of Josef von Sternberg’s 1930’s Weimar classic Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) with Marlene Dietrich (as Lola Lola) occupying the central stage as Rath, the conventional professor falls in love with Lola Lola, loses his sanity and becomes mad. It also reminds us of the tragedy Lulu in G. W Pabst’s Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, 1929). There is almost a similar tendency observed in Isherwood’s novel where Sally is always prioritised by her lovers as the stereotyped outsider or the impossible woman, whose position should be quarantined only as the carnal object of desire. It is the overwhelming...

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