Coming Home, Forgetting Home

Der Amerikaner. Where’s his home? The viewer sees Schabbach as the home of Paul’s family, but Paul himself is divorced from it by years of experience. We don’t really see him while he’s in America; he only now appears in his tailored suit and expensive car, complete with chauffeur. What we do hear of his story is only business. He speaks proudly of how he opened his own factory and how it has grown to comprise eight hundred workers, but it takes multiple queries to force him to admit that he has a woman (whether a wife or otherwise isn’t stated) in America. He entertains the town by throwing a party, at which he gives a rather pompous speech. He returns home as a wealthy man, and a patronizing one at that. He claims that he can help the town with his wealth from America but he does little to effect that claim; he seems more prone to showcase his wealth at every turn. He acts more like a visiting celebrity than a traveler returning home.

At one point, Paul notes that everyone but his mother seems to have changed. As he says this, I am reminded of the accounts that I’ve heard related by students who’ve studied abroad for a semester or a year. They say that the campus doesn’t feel quite the same—everything’s just moved on. It’s a natural thing, and to expect things to be the same after a semester is rather naïve. In my own experience, my own family last February comprised my parents, me, my two younger brothers, and four foster children living in our house. Now it’s just my parents and brothers at home. Consider a term of decades rather than months, and it becomes truly astonishing that Paul seems at all surprised that things have changed. He’s out of touch with his family’s home, the home of his youth. This is why I ask: is Schabbach truly Paul Simon’s home anymore? I don’t think so, though this may beg the greater question: “What is home?” I think there’s a level of connection required to call someplace home that’s missing from Paul’s connection to Schabbach, and he doesn’t seem to be extraordinarily dedicated to restoring this connection.

We see that Paul’s left home and made his fortune far away, and in the process has lost his original home, making one in America, unseen in the film. This home in America, if we only consider the information he provides here, is rather sterile; life revolves around the factory. Is it a good thing, though—to lose one’s original home in favor of a new one? This question is particularly relevant, I think, to us as we embark upon the same journey as Paul (though with a clearly less radical initial departure). Today we make our home at the University; before long we’ll be off making our homes elsewhere as we “settle down” for our burgeoning careers (whatever those may be). But should we try to “go big or go home,” at the expense of the latter? Should we try to become economically successful if it means the loss of our origins, our first and familial home? What about the opposite—ought we to remember our home to the expense of our worldly success? We’ve seen Paul’s answer to that question—he hasn’t quite given up on home, but in the end of the episode he can’t stay for the funeral because of the needs of his factory. I know my answer to that question, as I’m sure others do as well, and it differs strongly from Paul’s. Do other characters answer that question differently as they come home, or are they merely looking for an opportunity to strike gold, at all costs?

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3 Responses to Coming Home, Forgetting Home

  1. Clare Welch says:

    I think that Paul deserves at least some credit for coming back. I mean, I realize that he left without cause many years before hand, but he did try to return earlier, and he does eventually come home. Also, I think that we need to remember that this is Paul’s second homecoming. The very first episode shows Paul coming home from WWI. The differences between these two homecomings are very obvious. In my opinion, the first of Paul’s homecomings was a homecoming of defeat. Germany did not win the war, he had seen many horrific things, and at home nothing had changed for the rest of his family. I think that Paul could not cope with Schabbach because it reminded him of how he used to be and he could not accept the fact that he did not fit in there any more. Maria knows this about Paul; it is one of the first things she says to him. So to me it was not shocking to see Paul leave Schabbach because I dont think he could live with the man he was after the war. The second homecoming of Paul is much more triumphant. He returns home rich and successful, the very things he wanted to be after the war. I think Paul had to go to America to prove to himself more than anyone else that he had changed, and I think his coming back to Schabbach in this episode shows this sentiment. What Paul of course fails to recognize is that this time around a lot has changed in Schabbach. He is not welcomed back into the fold as he probably hoped to be, and though this should sadden him, I dont think it does because he has made himself a new identity in a new home. It took coming back to his homeland to finally realize that he can never belong there, though he will always remember it.

    This going away and coming back has been a theme throughout our course. With Paul and Odysseus and Marco Polo and Colonel Chabert, the going away was usually the agent of change. Like all of us, these men went away from home and returned changed. They grew in their knowledge of themselves, of the world, and of their homes. I think the reason why we find this theme in so many works is because change is a natural thing. Where one is born will always be there, but growing up means growing outward too. In this episode, we see the conclusion of Paul’s growing. Maybe he did handle the whole thing rather poorly, maybe he created a different sort of life than we would have expected him to, but wither way you look at it, he has finally come home. He has completed the cycle. Now, Paul and everyone else in his life can move on from his leaving and grow themselves. Its a natural cycle that everyone is destined to complete, even if it is never easy.

  2. Charlie says:

    In response to the question about valuing home or worldly success, I think that the ending of the episode suggests a compromise. After a home coming not unlike that of Paul in the first episode, Paul’s son Anton is ready to establish himself much the way his father did by traveling to America. Yet Anton does not look beyond Germany’s borders for his success nor does he possess the same Fernweh that drove his father out of the country. Anton sees Schabbach and the Hunsrück as the prime location for the manufacturing of optics devices and the site of his envisioned factory. His home relates entirely to his notion of success, and so the choice between “going big or going home” isn’t really a choice at all. Perhaps Anton’s aspirations stray from the realm of possibility, but he sees no need to leave his home in order to achieve success.

    • Ivana Surjancev says:

      Charlie, I like how you point out how Anton may be able to achieve success and stay home at the same time. However, Ernst takes a more extreme approach. In fact, Ernst never even bothers to return home, choosing instead to pursue money and success. This surprises me because Paul seemed to come home to double-check if he could fit in or not, while Ernst automatically decides to leave his home behind. This shocks me even more because Ernst was angrier at Paul for leaving them, so wouldn’t he be acting hypocritically to not return home at all? Then again, he may have been angry at Paul for starting something at home, and not finishing it. Maybe Ernst didn’t want to hurt the people back at home by giving them false hope that he would stay with them. He may have thought that if he never returned home, then his family would assume that he is dead. In some ways, it would be easier for his family to cope with his death than trying to understand why he doesn’t want to return to them.

      Either way, as Charlie pointed out, Anton gives us hope that pursuing success and a family life at home is possible, while Ernst contrasts this view completely. In this way, Reitz demonstrates that neither choice is wrong. Rather, he seems to applaud how the two brothers were able to make important decisions better than Paul, without causing as much pain for their loved ones at home.

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