Kindertransport by Diane Samuels

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The audience gains a partial insight into the way the Ratcatcher complex has developed in Eva’s mind over the years through the scene in which the Postman delivers a parcel to her from Helga containing her Rattenfänger book and the Haggadah. At first sight, the Postman seems too friendly and ‘English’ to be an aspect of the ‘Ratcatcher’. He plays out a comic parody of Hitler in front of Eva, goose-stepping along with a finger under his nose to represent the Führer’s moustache. As a child, Eva laughs at his antics, but the incident apparently leaves a mental ‘scar’ in which the association of the Postman in his uniform with Hitler endures, while the original comical context of this association is forgotten, so that even a kindly and friendly character serves to reinforce the ‘Ratcatcher complex’ in Eva’s mind. A similar example of this process can been seen in her reaction to the English Organiser, who is not, after all, an unkind man, but whose constant misunderstandings of Eva’s attempts to communicate with him leave her feeling abandoned. Like the Postman, he adds unwittingly to the complex of subconscious fears developing in her mind.

In the original stories by the Brothers Grimm and others, the Pied Piper is an attractive, enticing figure, playing music and dressed in bright, colourful garments. Only at the end of the tale does he lead the children of Hameln into an ‘abyss’ where they are separated forever from their parents. This paradigm of kindness followed by cruelty is established by Samuels as part of the Ratcatcher complex: the Border Guard, for example, gives Eva a ‘sweetie’ after he draws a Star of David on her badge; the English Organiser gives her a handkerchief before (in Eva’s eyes) abandoning her, while the Station Guard shows concern for her well-being before he turns against her as a potential spy. The importance of this pattern becomes clear in the part of the play where Lil tries to send Eva out of Manchester as an evacuee. By this time, Eva has learned to trust Lil; however, the psychological trigger of being put on a train by a mother-figure is more than she can bear. She has already glimpsed ‘the Ratcatcher’ on the platform and on the train she experiences a panic attack just before it leaves the station: ‘We’ve got to stop. He’ll take us over the edge. Got to get away from him. (She starts to choke and cough.)’ Reunited with Lil, the latter realises she should not have let Eva go – even though she has let her two natural daughters be evacuated: ‘It isn’t what you need most’, she says.

This insight of Lil’s sheds considerable light on the interactions in the play between Evelyn and Lil, and indeed Evelyn and Faith. Since the male other is seen exclusively in terms of fear and panic, Eva has only other females to turn to for real security and trust. There is, of course, nothing inherently unhealthy with daughters loving mothers and mothers loving daughters, but there are obviously cases where mother-daughter love becomes not so much a case of freely-given natural affection but more a desperate need to plug an inner emptiness: to fill what Eva/Evelyn herself calls ‘the abyss’. So for Eva, Lil becomes everything. She is sick in a toilet for half an hour at the thought that she might have to travel to New York with Helga, leaving Lil behind. Lil, for her part, is a natural mother, and her overriding instinct is to fill up Eva’s emptiness with a love and compassion that – the audience can infer – exceeds even what she feels for her own, presumably more independent, daughters. She is an example of a recognisable type: the mother who becomes especially attached to a needy child – and in her – perhaps excessive – affection for Eva there is a sign that ‘the shadow of the Ratcatcher’ has fallen upon her in the past as well.

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Diane Samuels