The Beauty of the Dawn Shift (A Literary Criticism Essay)

Posted on November 28, 2010


November 27, 2010
Dita Surya Kartika/ C0308031
Introduction to Prose Studies
The Beauty of the Dawn Shift Essay

Journey to the East is A Suicide?: A Propaganda Found in A Short Story of Rose Tremain “The Beauty of the Dawn Shift”
(A Sociological Approach)

Rose Tremain, an English writer, wrote The Beauty of the Dawn Shift as a reflection of the social life after the destruction of Berlin Wall. The protagonist, Hector S., traveled in a simple atmosphere by riding his bicycle to the cold Russia. The goal is probably simple; to find freedom and peace of life. However, to achieve such condition is never simple and it is reflected in the character’s struggle about maintaining patriotic identity and remaining alive in a country with ultimate cold climate, Russia.

Sociologists see literary works as a reflection of social life. They also suggest that literary works can be used as a tool to spread ideologies. To know that, the literary work is analyzed by seeing the sociological aspects of the author, the society, and the ideology brought by the author. In the story, the setting of time is on December 1989, one month after the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The setting of place is changing according to Hector’s journey; East Germany- Poland- Russia. The setting of place and time is frequently repeated thus attracting the reader to concern about the social and political issues at that time. Hector S’ characterization as a Border Police also amplifies that the story has got something to deal with both East and West ideologies. The story starts with Hector packing for Russia. He imagined that he would have a peaceful life there. The story is offering a utopia since the beginning. In real life, after the destruction, people were offered two world to choose; East or West. In this case, Hector, the fictional character chose East, represented by Russia. So, what happened to him by choosing East?

‘but remember, when you walk away from one place, you are inevitably walking towards another.’
‘I know that,’ said Hector, ‘That’s why I’m going East’
Hector S. knew that he must take responsibility of his choice. He stated physically that he chose East. However, his action reinforces his patriotic characterization. Actually, he was still thinking about life in West until the end of his journey. He took a point that as a soldier, he must obey the rule until dead. His background as an East Germany’s Border Police implicitly told his position against West. The interesting point is the author tries to mock his patriotism quality through Hector conversation with society.
‘Who are you?’ he said.
‘Border Police,’ announced Hector.
Border Police?’
The youth stood up straight and laughed. ‘Border Police! The border’s is down, or didn’t anyone tell you? You mean they didn’t tell you?’


In this conversation, the young bulbs thief mocks Hector for his lack of knowledge about the downed Border. The choice of word ‘announced’ implies the pride of a soldier in taking orders. The author is mocking German Soldiers –or probably soldiers in general- for taking orders without critical thinking. The assumption is that the author stands against Eastern ideology by providing an irony in her narration. After the war, almost all ideologies left by the losers were viewed as negative. Narrower than patriotism, chauvinism is defined as an aggressive and unreasonable belief that one’s own country is better than all others (Hornby, 2005:249). Even if Hector S. stated his belief as patriotism, the unreasonable action to maintain this belief post-war suggest that the patriotism Hector’s talking about refers to chauvinism. This chauvinism is showed in the narration to persuade the reader that this ideology is very shameful.
It wasn’t his fault if ideologies had a finite life span, if his world was falling away like flesh from bone, a little more each day. He’d been a communist and a patriot. He wanted to stand up in this cheap Marzahn café and say: ‘My name is Hector S and, to me, the word “patriot” is not a dirty one’

The bold shows a relation between the ideology of the author and her intention in making the story a tool to undermine communist ideology. Her influence in writing involves William Golding, an English soldier served as English Royal Navy in World War II. The irony is made to support her view about communism. She wants to say that communism leads to shameful actions. She viewed communism as an ideology which offers nothing than pathetic struggle. She suggests West as an appropriate ideology and that Hector is the brave one who took the marginal one.
Bravery was the word. Most people in East Germany had their eyes turned towards the West, as if they were kids in a cinema queue and the West were the last show on earth. Only he, Hector S., had the courage and the vision to ride east towards the Russian winter, towards the wilderness.

Hector, as a social being, was being oppressed because of choosing something different from people in general. If he chooses so, it would ruin his characterization as a patriotic one. The author needs to maintain this. Furthermore, the author wants to show us the outline of West ideology. She shows that West ideology is delightful and interesting. She uses the idiomatic expression “the last show” to toughen the idea that West is the best ideology.
How does the character act to overcome oppressions? Hector is a man who does not admit emotional expressions. Every time he encountered one, he did not overcome it. He ran into his utopian world, imagining a world that perfectly suits his thoughts. He denied everything that did not suit his thoughts. He was seeking for justifications every time he met events that did not suit his ideals.
His future was going wrong. Every thought that came to him, instead of being clear and precise, was clouded and difficult.
…What kind of work could he find which allowed him to be totally silent?
Then a new thought came. The colour of its chemical felt white. It was a thought about silence and the new world, the world of the West, creeping East. Westerners were thieves of silence….
Hector felt pleased with this thought, not because it was an optimistic one, but because it seemed rational and not blighted by confusion, and so he said to himself that perhaps he was going all this way in search of the perfect silence.

In the middle of his journey, Hector was troubled by his mind. What was actually Hector seeking for in East? He was running out of money. As an inhabitant he ought to earn money for his living. He did not think this far when he set his journey to Russia- “…although he’d prepared quite well for his journey, he hadn’t prepared for his arrival.”  In here, the quality of his choice was being tested. However, he created a thought that justify his action going to Russia. He was looking for a work that offers silence and West is not the correct place. So that he made an assumption eventhough East could not provide him with “silence works”, West is not as silence as East. As he corrected his statement “searching of the perfect silence” logically he would choose East the more silence than West.
The changing of social structure is again highlighted in the previous conversation between Hector and the young bulbs thief. According to Rainer Geissler (a German sociologist), before the destruction of Berlin Wall the social class was divided into an elite class, middle class, and worker class, with a small services class consisting of employees of all levels. The class changed in post-war into elite, self-employed, salaried employees, and workers. The difference between West and Germany was the fact that when the Wall fell, East Germany still had not made the translation in economical class. Hector was a soldier means he was a middle-class citizen. The quality of being a soldier is shown through his rifle. He was carrying the rifle as a symbol of pride to be a German soldier. “Never before in German history have weapons been carried for a nobler cause.” This propaganda shows that every German soldier must accept the duty as if it is a noble task. Because of the historical event, the rifle had no longer symbolized power so that the young one did not afraid of it. The implication of class change also happened when a train driver and his wife (considered as working class) helped Hector after fell down. The wife did not afraid of Hector and treated him without special treatment. If the story happens when German was still in war, the wife will probably take care of him more nicely. The author’s analysis of class relation is based on true fact that there was a shifting value in the structure of German society. Yet, behind it lies the intention of the author to prove that German forces had completely discharged.
The social oppressions do either blamed or ignored elsewhere. When Hector wanted to stand in his own “patriotic” identity, he blamed that the life of ideologies were not controlled by him. In the scene where the train driver and his wife healed him, he left some problems untouched. He did not make effort to thank them, especially the wife, for making him healthy. Instead, he just passively accepted all their treatments.
The ultimate utopian atmosphere is stated clearly in Hector letter to Ute. It is true that he reached Russia at the end but he had not visited those places mentioned in his letter. He was just imagining how’s the condition there. He had made his utopian world as an escape for all the problems he encountered.
Rose Tremain had succeeded in portraying the downfall of East force with a touching story that involves a stock character like Hector. The shifting value of military forces, the utopian world, and the justifications towards an attack of chauvinistic covers the issues around Germany’s social life during the transition between war and post-war period. Mocking German soldiers with her irony, Rose Tremain also implicitly planted the idea that going East equals to committing suicide. Hector’s death due to cold Russian breeze informs us that there is nothing left there after Russian lost. Even Hector knew that, but he was effectively blocked by the patriotic belief whom he embraced.

“I have arrived at the loneliest, most beautiful place in the world…”


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Delahoyde, M. (2004). Marxist Criticism. Washington State University. <;
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Guerin, W. L. cs. (1966). A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. New York and London: Harper & Row, Publishers.
Hornby, A. S. (2005). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: Seventh Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wikipedia Archieve (2010). Rose Tremain. <;
Wikipedia Archieve (2010). William Golding. <;

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