Our Lord Hitler: An Historical Basis for the Theocracy in Swastika Night

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Serious critical analysis of Katharine Burdiken’s dystopic novel Swastika Night began nearly fifty years after it was first published in 1937. The First Feminine Press’s publication of its edition in 1985 placed the book and its author squarely into two burgeoning streams of analysis. One stream focuses on the rediscovery of feminist literature written and published during and between the two world wars. The other stream has to do with a new look at dystopic fiction in light of the advent and passing of the year 1984, which served as the setting for George Orwell’s famous novel. Though the critical thinking about Swastika Night has crossed both of these streams, it has been weighted in the direction of Burdiken’s feminist message. Daphne Patai for example, in her Introduction to the 1985 edition, focuses on Burdiken’s critique of “gender ideology and sexual politics” (iii). Swastika Night provides ample material for this important line of analysis. For example, a woman’s lowly place in the dystopic social hierarchy, as well as the fact that she does not have a soul and is not human, is established in the first chapter of the book. But this perspective suggests a limited view of Burdiken’s contribution to dystopic literature. Burdiken envisions her state as a theocracy, which provides the very foundation for her dystopia. My aim in this essay is to suggest a reading of the novel based on the primacy of this proposition and that, grounded as it and its fundamental tenets are in the reality of Hitler’s place in Germany at the time, the dismal future of Swastika Night is all the more realistic and frightening.

Unlike Orwell or Aldous Huxley, Burdiken does not stake the Night in her future on an imaginary cataclysm. Rather, as I shall argue, her dystopia is a plausibly projected consequence of the actual state of things as they were when she wrote. As we shall see, Burdiken’s Hitlerism as religion was already nascent in the early 1930s. The preeminence of violence for the Nazis had been established. The fate of women, Jews, and of Christians for that matter, was prefigured. Homosexuality, though publicly condemned, was tacitly tolerated at the highest levels of Nazi leadership, and homoeroticism was portrayed in propagandist art. Even the formal movement to change history, or the public’s perception of it, was imminent. All of these elements of the Nazi order are embedded in the theocratic structure of Swastika Night.

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Liberal Studies