Why Your Favourite Character in Mein Kampf Is Problematic
Sorry to break the bad news…..
I first came across Mein Kampf the summer I turned 14. It’s one of those books that marks a coming of age for many teenagers and for me, it helped bridge the gap between young adult novels (I’m looking at you Babysitters Club!) and the more serious literary works I have gone on to study in college.
Much like Catcher In the Rye or The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Mein Kampf is one of those coming-of-age classics perpetually being handed down by a well meaning parent or teacher.
For me, Mein Kampf will always take me back to that never ending summer in 2007. It takes me back to those long, golden evenings spent on the lake. To the smell of the magnolias in the hedgerows that came and went all too quickly as I whipped past on my bike, revelling in the exhilarating freedom of youth. To my first kiss under the boardwalk in the glow of a ripe august moon. And whenever I see that iconic front cover, I’m transported back to those heady days
But, if we can step back from the warm nostalgic feeling that arises whenever we think about the books that shaped out childhood, and examine them with a critical eye, some subtle yet troubling themes can start to emerge.
For example, there is one character in Mein Kampf, Hitler, that gave me some pause when I re-read the novel in my early twenties. As the book is written in the first person, we are invited to empathise with the narrator, Hitler. But there are some passages from the novel that gave me cause to step back and say: “Woah. Is this….? Awww man….I don’t know.”
Like the following excerpt:
If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile
I know we all loved this part of the plot as kids but we have to address the fact that the concept of racial purity is becoming a bit of a no-go topic in polite society. We’ve moved on from the idea of a superior race and so it should make us uncomfortable that our narrator should touch upon the subject for an entire chapter.
It’s hard to look at our literary heroes through the lens of history. All novels are of their time, and if promotion of the one true master race was the only point of concern, I could probably overlook it. And I did, until I came across a throwaway line that, I have to admit, soured the reading experience for me:
the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew
I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, but after this excerpt, I began to wonder if Hitler is the kind of protagonist we should be encouraged to empathise with. It may seem like I’m just being an overly sensitive millennial, but I think we deserve better from our fictional role models, don’t we?
Let me make it clear that this is all just my reading of the piece. I’ m not here to dictate what you can and can’t read. Hell, I’m not telling you to throw the book in the fireplace! And I’m not saying kids can no longer dress up as their favourite character from the book for Halloween, or that schools can’t put on the musical adaptation. But we must give the correct context when teaching this novel.
It’s important to point these things out as some people can pick up a book, skim read it, and completely misunderstand it.
And that’s something we need to change.