Dirty hands (Die schmutzigen Hände)
by Jean-Paul Sartre
It’s 1943 and the Germans are occupying the fictional East European country of Illyria. A young man named Hugo joins the Communist party to break with his bourgeois past. Convinced that he’s superfluous, Hugo looks to the collective nature of communism to give him a sense of belonging, and for an assignment to give his life purpose. He agrees to assassinate Hoederer, the party leader who is trying to create a pact with other non-socialist groups to oppose the Germans. Negotiating with these reactionary forces makes him a traitor in the eyes of Hugo and his comrades. Hugo takes a job as Hoederer’s private secretary – he and his wife Jessica even live in the leader’s house. The closer Hugo gets to the charismatic Hoederer, the more he comes to admire him and seek his approval. Hugo keeps delaying the assassination. Only when he’s led to believe that Hoederer has seduced Jessica does Hugo shoot Hoederer. After being released from jail, Hugo insists that the murder was politically motivated, not a crime of passion. However, in the meantime, the political situation has changed.
Sartre’s drama, which made its debut in 1948, deals with communism and social conflict, as well as exposing the errors inherent in any ideology. “Dirty Hands” asks whether we should actively attempt to shape our society and, if so, how? It makes us question what kind of society we advocate and wonder whether there is a “right“ way to act in times of global economic and democratic crisis.
January 20, 2012