Literature

After reading the entire Shmoop guide on Todesfugue, you are requested to answer in full two questions from each of the themes.The below questions are copied from Shmoop.

Questions About War

1. The author of this poem is someone who never saw combat. Would you still consider “Deathfugue” to be a “war poem”?
2. Does the poem encourage the (controversial) idea that European Jews were passive in the face of Nazi violence?
3. Do you consider the guard in the poem to be a kind of “soldier”?
4. Why did the Nazis force Jews to dig graves? Was there a reason besides the practical reason that it was considered efficient?

Questions About Suffering

1. Why do the speakers of the poem often sound so ironic and detached from their situation? Were you expecting more direct expressions of suffering from this “Holocaust poem”?
2. How does the fugue form express the suffering of the prisoners?
3. What is your interpretation of the phrase, repeated several times, “there you won’t lie too cramped”?
4. How does the symbol of “black milk” help to capture the dismal quality of life in the camp?

Questions About Identity

1. Why is the Nazi guard referred to only as a “man” who “lives in the house”? How is his identity presented to the reader?
2. If “Death is a master from Deutschland,” then who is Death? A real person? An abstract idea? Somewhere in the middle?
3. Does the poem have a single speaker or several speakers? Does it make a difference to you as a reader?
4. What do we know about the speaker or speakers of the poem? Are any details provided?
5. How does the contrast between Marguerite and Shulamith frame our understanding of the German and Jewish cultures as presented by the poem?

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Questions About Mortality

1. Do the speakers see any hope for survival, or do they view death as inevitable in the short-term?
2. Are the speakers afraid of death? Do they look forward to it?
3. What kind of meanings does the word “master” have for you in the phrase, “Death is a master from Germany”?
4. What is the relationship between the “man” who “lives in a house” and Death? How are the two associated throughout the poem?

Questions About Art and Culture

1. Do you agree with the philosopher Theodor Adorno’s quote that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric? What was he trying to say?
2. Does the poem condemn German art and culture, and if not, why does Celan portray the Nazi guard as such an art-lover?
3. Nazism made it pretty clear that appreciation for art doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. But can art ever contribute to making someone better, ethically speaking?
4. Why write a poem about the Holocaust at all? What might have been some of Celan’s reasons for writing “Deathfugue”?

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