Kindertransport by Diane Samuels

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There are several aspects to this ‘mythic’ character and they can be summarised as follows: the Ratcatcher has the ability to induce intense fear; he possesses authority over Eva; he can threaten her, and he usually wears a uniform; he displays a disconcerting mixture of kindness and cruelty, and he is always associated with movement from one place to another. This last point is an important one: the Ratcatcher is, above all else, a liminal figure who occupies the space between Eva’s two homes and who becomes powerful in that transitory place outside that lies beyond the security offered to Eva initially by Helga and then by Lil. He is not truly a character, nor even a symbolic archetype (since he does not represent any consistent, controlling idea beyond that of fear itself); instead, he is best understood as a complex in the psychological sense – one which has become deeply rooted in Eva/Evelyn’s mind. This helps to explain why ‘he’ can be quite a difficult figure to define. Despite the fact that he ultimately derives from Eva’s Rattenfänger book, he is obviously more complex than the familiar Pied Piper of legend, combining, for example, aspects of the ‘bogeyman’, a fearsome creature known to almost every culture in the world under various names and used by parents to scare their offspring into doing what they are told. It is, for example, as the bogeyman that the Ratcatcher scares children who do not ‘count their blessings’ in the play, since this is not an aspect of the ‘real’ Rattenfänger, ‘the Pied Piper of Hamelin’. It is, in fact, the Ratcatcher’s amorphous nature that makes him so terrifying: if ‘he’ can be a ‘cloud with legs’ then, potentially, he can be anything, or indeed anyone. He can even be a she, as both Helga and Lil come to be identified with him at various points in the play. Anyone who threatens Eva/Evelyn’s security is associated immediately with what is essentially not a ‘character’ at all, but a deep-seated and involuntarily neurosis.

In spite of the fact that both Helga and Lil briefly ‘become’ the Ratcatcher, the subconscious terror that becomes attached to this figure unquestionably has its origin in the men who, at various points in the play, hold power over the young Eva. This is particularly associated with the Ratcatcher wearing a uniform, and historically uniforms were of great importance to the National Socialist movement in Germany. From its origins in the 1920s, the Nazi Party possessed what would now be called a paramilitary wing, the Sturmabteilung (‘Storm Division’) or SA. Members of the SA wore a distinctive uniform and were known as ‘brownshirts’ as a result, while the, slightly later, Hitlerjugend or ‘Hitler Youth’ wore similar garb. The fear of men in uniform has clearly infected Eva’s mind so deeply that her older persona, Evelyn, crosses the road if she sees ‘a policeman or traffic-warden’ according to her daughter.

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Diane Samuels