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Every Man Dies Alone Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 124 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Every Man Dies Alone.
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Every Man Dies Alone Summary & Study Guide Description

Every Man Dies Alone Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada.

The following version of Every Man Dies Alone was used to create this guide: Fallada, Hans. Every Man Dies Alone. New York: Melville House Publishing, 2010. Paperback.

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada is a depiction of German society during World War II and the struggle of the German people to live in an oppressive regime. Citizens either comply with and propagate Nazi Party beliefs, cower quietly in silence or choose to participate in some sort of resistance effort. The narrator switches continually between using the past and present tenses, however not for any clear reason. At times it appears that the present tense is used to heighten the action, but there is no consistent pattern to support this as a motive.

The novel begins as Frau Eva Kluge delivers a letter to Otto and Anna Quangel informing them of their son’s death. While delivering the news to their son’s fiancé, Trudel, Otto learns of her involvement in a resistance cell within the factory and begins to consider his own plans for fighting against the regime responsible for his son’s death. Otto devises a plan to write anti-war messages on postcards and discreetly deposit them throughout the city. Anna becomes a partner in the scheme, realizing that if caught, they will both pay with their lives. Trudel's own life is temporarily in danger when two members of the resistance cell suggest she kill herself in order to protect the group. She is defended by another member, Karl Hergesell who also confesses his love for her.

Meanwhile, the author introduces the other occupants of the Quangels’ apartment building. Neighbor Emil Borkhausen, a laze-about who lives off others, attempts to rob Frau Rosenthal, a Jewish woman living on the fourth floor. He is stopped by Baldur Persicke, the youngest member of the first floor family that are ardent followers of the Nazi Party. Emil later meets up with Enno Kluge, the estranged husband of Eva the postwoman. The two attempt a second break-in at Frau Rosenthal’s apartment and are once again stopped, this time by the Persickes, Otto Quangel and another resident, the retired Judge Fromm. Frau Rosenthal was kept safe that night in the Quangel’s apartment and the next day is given shelter by Judge Fromm in his first floor flat. However, she is unwilling to live life in hiding and ultimately jumps from a window to her death.

After careful planning Otto begins his postcard campaign, but most of the cards end up in the hands of Inspector Escherich of the Gestapo. Without any real leads in catching the culprit, he finds a scapegoat in Enno Kluge when he needs to show his superiors progress in solving the case. Following a false confession, release and a series of bungled plans, Enno finds temporary sanctuary in the home of Hetty Haberle, a lonely widow. However, Escherich eventually finds him and convinces him to end his own life, effectively covering up his own shortcomings.

In the year that passes, Trudel and Karl Hergesell have gotten married. One day Trudel runs into Otto, sees him dropping a postcard and questions him about his activities. She urges him to be more careful and he secures a promise that she will say nothing to her husband. Elsewhere, Karl runs into Grigoleit, one of the former cell members. Karl reluctantly agrees to keep a suitcase for him but checks it at the train station.

Meanwhile, Inspector Zott replaces Escherich on the postcard case. Based on some incorrect deductions, Zott has the Quangels released when they are caught during a card drop. He does, however, send an agent Klebs to the Persicke apartment in hopes of gaining information about people in the neighborhood, where he believes the postcard writer lives. Klebs tries to take advantage of a drunk Father Persicke and rob him, but is interrupted by Emil Borkhausen who is attempting the same thing. Both men are caught due to the ever watchful eye of Judge Fromm; Borkhausen is imprisoned and Persicke is sent to a dry-out clinic.

The author breaks from the main storyline to provide an update on Eva Kluge who is now farming in the country. One day, she encounters a teenage boy hungrily eating her breakfast at the edge of the field. He happens to be Kuno Borkhausen who has run away from his father, Emil. Emil involved his son in some of his scams and tried to beat him. She encourages the boy to make something of himself and invites him to live and work with her, an offer he gladly accepts.

Back in Berlin, Inspector Zott's mistake is discovered by superiors and Inspector Escherich is put back on the case. Eight weeks later, Anna Quangel is sick with the flu and Otto is working an extra shift. Two postcards accidentally fall out of his satchel and are discovered on the workroom floor. Once they are turned over to factory supervisors, the police and Inspector Escherich are informed. Inspector Escherich investigates the list of workers and addresses and determines that Otto Quangel must be the culprit since he lives in the area where he believes the writer resides. He visits the Quangels' apartment and questions a fevered Anna while officers search the apartment. They discover a forgotten postcard which Otto had slipped into a book on his shelf. With evidence in hand, Escherich orders Anna removed to a hospital to receive treatment.

Escherich returns to the factory, arrests Otto, and brings him to his apartment. Otto denies having anything to do with writing the postcards, but the inspector shows him the evidence and Otto knows he has been discovered. At Gestapo headquarters Otto sees a map with red flags indicating all the postcards that were turned into the Gestapo. He is devastated that his two-year mission has yielded no results and he confesses to the crime. Escherich asks why he risked his life over an act that he must have known would have no real affect against such a powerful regime. Otto challenges Escherich, saying that he needed to maintain his integrity and not quietly accept the many atrocities perpetrated by Hitler's regime. He is taken to the basement cells and beaten and humiliated by the SS officers. But Escherich knows that Otto is a dignified and good person and his conscious has been stirred. No longer able to live with his own actions within a cruel regime, he takes his own life that very night.

Escherich's successor, Inspector Laub, is a fierce investigator who questions his suspects unrelentingly. Laub beats Anna and twists her words so often that she gives up Trudel's name as her son’s former fiancé and reveals that she had also been aware of the postcard writing. As a result, the Hergesells become suspects. During questioning, the suitcase Karl had checked for Grigoleit is retrieved from the station and a small printing press for producing anti-war propaganda is discovered. As the couple is arrested, Trudel is hit and Karl runs to her aid. He is subsequently beaten and knocked unconscious.

Otto’s cell mate in the Gestapo prison is a former SS man, now prisoner, who feigns madness and behaves like a dog, crawling on all fours, biting at Otto's legs and begging to play fetch. Anna, however, is fortunate to have Trudel brought in when her former cellmate dies. Trudel convinces an SS guard to remove the body and she and Anna carry it to the morgue. While there, Trudel begs the man for a few moments to check around for Karl. She does not find him and they are returned to their cell.

Meanwhile Baldur Persicke visits his father in the dry-out clinic and cruelly tells the old man that he will never be allowed to leave and return home. He then forcefully instructs the clinic doctor to administer an injection of green liquid which is said to cause vomiting and death, sealing the old man’s fate.

Otto is moved to the remand prison and he acquires a new cell mate, Dr. Reichhardt, a musician and conductor. Otto learns a new way of existence as he spends time with Reichardt and discovers a richness to life that he had not previously experienced having lived in such isolation. The man teaches Otto to play chess, encourages him and councils him to plead guilty in court to ensure quick sentencing. Friederich Lorenz is the kind chaplain who is not only concerned with prisoners’ spiritual condition, but also carries messages between inmates. In this way Trudel learns of Karl's death as a result of head injuries he sustained during their arrest. The chaplain takes her to see Karl's body but she passes out from shock. Upon waking, she asks to return to her cell. In a brief moment when the chaplain and a prison guard are arguing she climbs on a railing and jumps over, falling several stories to her death.

Finally, Anna and Otto are briefly reunited just prior to their trial. Judge Feisler is immediately harsh and cruel to the defendants. He is angry at the guilty plea and insists on trying the case so that he can humiliate those who oppose the Nazi state. However, Otto is brazen and tells the judge that he carried out his postcard campaign because he believed the Reich would fall to its enemies before he would ever get caught. The trial continues as the prosecuting attorney questions Anna as well as her brother, Ulrich Heffke. Following several outbursts, both of them are removed from the courtroom; Anna is sent to her cell and Ulrich, who was driven to mental instability during his interrogations with Laub, is ultimately determined unfit for life and given a lethal injection.

The defense team is useless as Anna's attorney is thoroughly incompetent and Otto's lawyer refuses to defend him. During a break in the proceedings, Judge Fromm, who has been sitting in the courtroom spectator stand, motions Otto to the side rail. He quickly turns and exits, but leaves behind a small parcel containing a vial of cyanide and instructions on its use. Otto is told that Anna will be similarly provided for.

Now that he can control the time of his death Otto has a new sense of freedom and power as he waits for the death sentence to be carried out. His lawyer delivers the official verdict and states he will file a plea for clemency on Otto's behalf. He asks Otto why he risked his life for such a futile goal. Once again, Otto challenges an official of the regime with the depravity of his own occupation and the criminal activity in which he participates. As he leaves, the lawyer knows it to be true. Another plea for clemency comes from the elder Heffkes, Anna's parents, who write directly to the Fuhrer and beg for the life of their daughter, still believing in the goodness of their leader. The letter makes its rounds to government offices and returns a "denied" answer.

Meanwhile in her own cell, Anna is faced with a dilemma. Judge Fromm gave her cyanide as well, but she fears using it, wanting to remain brave for Otto and perhaps see him one more time. Finally, she destroys the vial. The time comes for Otto's execution but his curiosity to experience the execution process impels him to withhold using the cyanide until he suddenly realizes he has waited too long. The executioner’s blade falls and he is dead. Months go by and Anna is still waiting for her execution to take place but she is now at peace with herself. She dies suddenly one night during a bombing raid.

The novel ends however on a happier note as the author concludes with an update on Eva Kluge and Kuno. Eva is remarried, Kuno has officially become the couple's son and their farm is prospering. Even a surprise return of the still-reprobate Emil Borkhausen does not interrupt their new life as Kuno roughly turns his former father away and firmly declares his new status. The author concludes by praising Kuno's decision to put behind his old life and seek good.

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