the man outside

The Man Outside

Written by Wolfgang Borchert // Translated by V. C. Linde.

The Man Outside was written in 1946/7, just after the end of the Second World War which had greatly affected Borchert. He had been imprisoned twice and injured, either by the enemy or by his own hand to get away from the fighting. The text is dark but also very humorous and shows that Borchert had both suffered and learnt from his experiences.

 - - Wolfgang Borchert - -
Wolfgang Borchert was born on May 20th 1921 to Fritz and Herta Borchert in Hamburg. At the age of seventeen he had his first poems published in the 'Hamburger Anzeiger'. His first theatre work was interrupted by World War Two as he had conscripted after only a few short months with the theatre company and was on his way to the front. At the start of 1942 he had the first attack of jaundice which would plague him for the rest of his life. Later in the year his troubles continued as he was arrested when his superiors in the Germany Army suspected that he had injured himself to avoid fighting at the front. He was acquitted but remained in custody because he had been found guilty of speaking against the state, later on he also (very bravely) parodied Josef Goebbels.

- - Extract from Scene Two - -

The Other One: Come along, Beckmann.
Beckmann: That’s not my name. I’m not Beckmann anymore. I can’t be this person. Beckmann shouldn’t live while there is a man in there with one leg. A poor girl with a one-legged husband. All because of me. Once upon a time, Sergeant Beckmann said, “Lance Corporal Bauer – hold your post to the absolute last”. I can’t keep going while that man lives with only one leg. He only says, ‘Beckmann’. In his mouth it sounds like death, scoundrel, killer. I’m supposed to keep living while he keeps saying my name? I’m back outside again, like last night and I can’t go back inside. I’m tired, my legs ache, I’m empty with hunger and freezing cold. And the Lance-Corporal keeps saying, ‘Beckmann’. Let me by.
The Other One: Come on, we’re going this way. Let’s go and visit a man we know.
Beckmann: Why?
The Other One: You took it from the Colonel and now you have to give it back. To let him have his responsibility back at last.
Beckmann: We’re visiting a man? Yes, I’ll give his dead men to him, return them to their rightful owner. Let’s go. I want to see this man. There’s one of him in each village, town, and city. He’s done his duty – always his duty, nothing more and never anything less. What a cruel duty.

- - Extract from Scene Four - -

Beckmann: Then they arrive – the gladiators, the warriors. They get up out of their mass graves that we threw them into. Their blood, stench and moaning rises up until it hits the white moon. It’s what the nights are made of. As sharp as decay. As deep red as summer berries dropped down a white dress. These nights that stop us from breathing. The horrid sounds and smells go all the way up to the moon. That white moon looking back down at the arriving dead.
Colonel: Absurd – the moon is yellow. It has always been yellow. Yellow of honey or an omelette. It has always been a yellow moon.

Beckmann: No. No, Sir. When the dead get up out of the grave She’s sickly white. She’s the pale bloated stomach of a drowned pregnant girl. Sallow, round and dead. The blood. They crawl out of those graves with festering bandages wrapped over their rotting wounds, their uniforms stained and spoiled. They come out of the sea, out of the marshes, from our streets, from the dark forests, the rubble of old cities, and the moors. They stagger up in blackened decay. We buried them and they get back up. Those who’ve lost eyes, arms, teeth, legs, guts; people who don’t have their heads, or hands. They walk, covered in stench and full of holes. Dead, blind but walking. An army that can’t be counted in their number or in their pain. They are more than sand, more than water. It rolls over the land, breaking through barriers across all of the earth. They come bloodied, large, fetid and rotten. The fat, musical, general looks to me, hands them to me. “Sergeant Beckmann – take the responsibility. Stand off.” So I stand before the ocean of dead – the destroyed remnants of men grinning at me with ruined bodies. I stand before my responsibility as it looks back at me – ruined bones clatter and grin but won’t obey orders. Isn’t that insubordination? Real mutiny?
Colonel: Yes. It is mutiny.
Beckmann: They refuse. They won’t do it. Their voices build, they join together and rattle out thunderous songs. Can you guess what they’re saying? Do you know, Sir?
Colonel: No.
Beckmann: Beckmann, they shout. Beckmann. Sergeant Beckmann. They just get louder. It sounds magnificent and terrifying – cold and brutal. The noise grows and grows until it has taken up all of the air and I can’t breathe. So then I scream. I scream so that I can’t hear them anymore. I scream so that I wake up from it. Each night this happens – the xylophone symphony, then the blood and the dead rising, then the screaming. I can’t just turn over and go back to sleep because I’d been given the responsibility. It was mine. I had it. Yes – the responsibility. So I came to see you tonight, Sir. I’d like to sleep this evening. I don’t want to have the dream again.

For further extracts or more information about either the original play, other translations or my own translation please do not hesitate to email me at

<All text copyright of VC Linde>