Draußen vor der Tür
The Man Outside is a play by Wolfgang Borchert
Wolfgang Borchert
Wolfgang Borchert was a German author and playwright whose work was affected by his experience of dictatorship and his service in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. His work is among the best examples of the Trümmerliteratur movement in post-World War II Germany...

, written in a few days in the late autumn of 1946. It made its debut on German radio on 13 February 1947.

The Man Outside describes the hopelessness of a post-war soldier called Beckmann who returns from Russia to find that he has lost his wife and his home, as well as his illusions and beliefs. He finds every door he comes to closed. Even the Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

 River rejects his suicide, washing him up on shore. The play ends with what can be assumed to be Beckmann's death.

Due to its release during the sensitive immediate postwar period, Borchert subtitled his play "A play that no theatre wants to perform and no audience wants to see." Despite this, the first radio broadcast (February 1947) was very successful. The first theatrical production of The Man Outside (at the Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

er Kammerspiele
) opened on the day after Borchert's death, 21 November 1947.

The play consists of five scenes
Scene (fiction)
In fiction, a scene is a unit of drama. A sequel is what follows; an aftermath. Together, scene and sequel provide the building blocks of plot for short stories, novels, and other forms of fiction.-Characteristics of a scene:...

 in one act
Act (theater)
An act is a division or unit of a drama. The number of acts in a production can range from one to five or more, depending on how a writer structures the outline of the story...

. It makes use of expressionist
Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas...

 forms and Brechtian
Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director.An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the...

 techniques, such as the Verfremdungseffekt (defamiliarization effect) to disorient and engage its audience.


The list of characters, translated from the original text of the play:
  • Beckmann, one of many
  • His Wife, who forgot him
  • Her Friend, who loves her
  • A Woman, whose husband came home with one leg
  • Her Husband, who dreamed of her for a thousand nights
  • A Colonel, who is very merry
  • His Wife, feeling so cold in her warm parlour
  • The Daughter, just over for dinner
  • Her Courageous Husband
  • A Cabaret Director, with daring goals, but less stamina
  • Frau Kramer, who is just Frau Kramer, which is horrible
  • The Old Man, in whom no one believes anymore
  • The Undertaker with a case of the hiccups
  • A Street Sweeper, who actually does not have that profession
  • The Other, whom everyone knows
  • The Elbe

Following the character list, there is a short introduction (two paragraphs) to the play (similar to the original dramatic use of a prologue
A prologue is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information. The Greek prologos included the modern meaning of prologue, but was of wider significance...

): "A man" (Beckmann) returns to his German home town, but there is nobody to go to. At first, he feels distanced from his life, thinking it is a film. But slowly he realizes that it is an "all-day film".


The play begins with an overfed undertaker (apparently Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

) with gas(belching) examining a body by the river Elbe, not the first one. The body does not appear to belong to a soldier, although he is wearing soldier's clothes. The undertaker makes the nihilistic
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

 claim that this death changes nothing. The Old Man (apparently God) enters, crying and explaining: His children are killing each other. Since no one believes in him anymore, he can do nothing to stop them. Disinterested, the undertaker agrees that this is very tragic indeed.

God says that Death is the new God; people believe only in death. However, God remembers a skinny, sickly death. Death explains that he has grown fat during the last century, due to all the "business" from the war, and that is the cause of his belching. The scene ends with Death telling God to take a rest for emotional rehabilitation.


Beckmann awakes (after his suicidal attempt) to find himself floating in the Elbe. The river turns out to be a rather resolute motherly figure. Once she discovers that Beckmann is bent on suicide, she lashes out, patronizing him. She calls him faint-hearted and explains that she will not let him kill himself. The dream ends with him washing up on the sand.

Scene one

The Other introduces himself to Beckmann. He describes himself as the "yes-sayer". Annoyed, Beckmann tells him to leave. Thereafter, a girl turns up offering to help Beckmann, by giving him dry clothing and some warmth. She explains that she's only helping him because he's so wet and cold; later, she will admit having helped him because he looked so sad and innocent.

Scene two

Beckmann follows the girl to her house, where he finds out that her husband had been a soldier, like Beckmann. The girl laughs at Beckmann's gasmask goggles, which he continues to wear, because it allows him to see the world as grey and blurry. But, her husband comes home, on crutches. It turns out this is due to a military command of sergeant Beckmann that he lost his leg.

Beckmann attempts to go back to the Elbe for another try to die, but the Other convinces him not to. Instead he is going to visit the man, who had given the commands to him.

Scene three

The third scene marks the emotional climax of the play. Beckmann appears at his former Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

's house, just in time for dinner. He immediately blames the Colonel, telling him that for 3 years he ate caviar while the men suffered. He tells the Colonel about his nightmare.

In that dream, a fat man (Death again) plays a Military March on a very large xylophone
The xylophone is a musical instrument in the percussion family that consists of wooden bars struck by mallets...

 made from human bones. The man is running back and forth, sweating blood. The blood gives him red stripes down the side of his trousers (like that of a General in the German Army.) All the dead from throughout history are there, and Beckmann is forced to stand there among them, under a sickly, discolored moon. And they are all chanting "Beckmann! Sergeant
Sergeant is a rank used in some form by most militaries, police forces, and other uniformed organizations around the world. Its origins are the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term Sergent....


Beckmann tells the Colonel that he has returned to hand back to the Colonel the responsibility for the eleven men lost under his command. If he were able to sleep with those thousands killed in action under his command, eleven more will not change anything for him. The Colonel finds this whole idea very strange declaring it to be a joke out of place. He suggests that Beckmann takes his joke to the stage. Beckmann steals a bottle of rum and some bread from the dinner table, then leaves.

Scene four

The scene opens with a monologue
In theatre, a monologue is a speech presented by a single character, most often to express their thoughts aloud, though sometimes also to directly address another character or the audience. Monologues are common across the range of dramatic media...

 from the Direktor (i.e. owner and producer of an off-off theatre) about the importance of Truth in art. Someone outspoken, new, and young should be looked for.

Beckmann arrives and expresses his ideas. The director tells him he would be better off to change his mind. Nevertheless, the director agrees to give a hearing to his odd visitor.

Beckmann gives a couplet, turning up to be a morose summary of the play up to this point, the melody taken from a popular war time song, Tapfere kleine Soldatenfrau ("brave little soldier’s wife"). To the director it is all too dark and foreboding. People in these times want something encouraging, the director says. To Beckmann, that is not Truth. The director replies: "Truth has nothing to do with art." Beckmann reproaches him, and leaves the theatre.

Once again, Beckmann takes up an argument with the Other, who gives him the idea to return to his parents. Beckmann expresses some enthusiasm for the first (and only) time in the play.

Scene five

Upon arriving at his parents' house, a woman he has never seen (Frau Kramer) answers the door. He finds out that his parents are to be found in their graves, having killed themselves during the post-war denazification
Denazification was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of any remnants of the National Socialist ideology. It was carried out specifically by removing those involved from positions of influence and by disbanding or rendering...

. Beckmann leaves, once again eager to kill himself.

The Other follows him, and the longest dialogue of the play ensues. The nihilistic
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

 point of the play comes across during this dialog: There is always suffering in the world; one cannot do anything to change that; the world will not care if you are suffering. As evidence for this, Beckmann outlines a hypothetical play:
1st Act: Grey skies. A man is suffering.
2nd Act: Grey skies. The man continues to be pained.
3rd Act: It is getting dark and it is raining.

4th Act: It is darker. The man sees a door.
5th Act: It is night, deep night, and the door is closed. The man is standing outside. Outside on the doorstep. The man is standing on a riverside, be it the Elbe, the Seine
The Seine is a -long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre . It is navigable by ocean-going vessels...

, the Volga, or the Mississippi
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

. The man stands there crazed, frozen, hungry, and damn tired. And then there is a splash, and the ripples make neat little circles, and then the curtain drops.

The Other counters that while there is always suffering in the world, there is always hope, and there is always happiness. Dwelling on the suffering cannot accomplish anything; you can make things better by focusing on the good; as he says, "Do you fear the darkness between two lamp-posts?"

One by one, each of the characters returns to defend himself. Despite their good intentions, they cannot help. Between these visits, the dialog between Beckmann and the Other goes on. There is little change in the content of their arguments; however, both of them become increasingly desperate. Finally, after the girl and her one-legged husband have left, a desperate Beckmann begins a long monologue, at the end of which he demands an answer from the Other; who is fading away. There is no reply, and Beckman realizes he is all alone. Presumably, he has drowned himself.

Production history

The play received its US debut at the President Theatre in New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 on March 1, 1949 under the name Outside the Door. It was directed by the head of the Dramatic Workshop
Dramatic Workshop
Dramatic Workshop was the name of a drama and acting school associated with the New School for Social Research in New York City. It was launched in 1940 by German expatriate stage director Erwin Piscator. Among the faculty were Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, among the students Marlon Brando, Tony...

, German expatriate stage director Erwin Piscator
Erwin Piscator
Erwin Friedrich Maximilian Piscator was a German theatre director and producer and, with Bertolt Brecht, the foremost exponent of epic theatre, a form that emphasizes the socio-political content of drama, rather than its emotional manipulation of the audience or on the production's formal...

. The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

critic reacted favorably to the play and its production as did most of his colleagues:
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