Castration and Critique: Resisting Rehabilitation in Ernst Toller’s Hinkemann

Caroline Weist


While serving a sentence for treason after WWI, playwright and veteran Ernst Toller wrote his tragedy Hinkemann, which tells the story of a soldier who has returned home after being castrated in combat. In part because of Toller’s leftist politics and German-Jewish identity, his play and the wounded soldier at its center have typically been viewed as a heavy-handed critique of Germany and its nationalist militarism, broadly conceived. In light of archival research on the relationship between Toller and prominent sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, however, this article argues that the play should be read as a critique of a much more specific target: wartime Germany’s aggressively normative, gendered rehabilitation system. It frames Toller’s play with Butler’s notion of “critique,” and then reads it alongside medical literature of the period in order to present Hinkemann as an interrogation of how lives are made unlivable by a system supposedly meant to save them. (CW)

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