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In The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, by Bertolt Brecht, a violent gang gains power through the vegetable trade, attaining near dictatorial status in a chillingly short amount of time. One thing leads to another in a rapid sequence of events that ultimately results in the frightening scenario of a completely authoritarian society ruled by terror. Though the complicated progression of incidents is in the play may seem hard to believe, the plot directly parallels Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power in the years leading up to the Second World War. Written shortly after the actual events took place, Brecht stresses through his play the fact that such a situation could easily arise anywhere, at any time. Many of the key factors that trigger the first incidents in the chain of events can be found in many places other than postwar Germany or the one portrayed in the play – and thus, the same incidents may very well occur again.
As the play opens, it is evident that Chicago is suffering from a devastating depression, and the directors of the Cauliflower Trust describe how “this awful change from glut to destitution/has come more quickly than a maiden’s blush.” (9). Because of the extreme nature of their situation, the businessmen are desperate to obtain money from any source, leading to their idea of obtaining a loan from the city. Because they are so desperate, they are ready to obtain money underhandedly – by proposing a project (the building of the docks) and using the loan otherwise. Not only that, they are so determined to receive money that when they are rejected by Dogsborough, they lure him with a huge share of the Trust, knowing that his newly acquired self interest in the matter will lead him to push for their loan. If it were not for the severe economic problems they faced, the men of the Trust would never have turned to Dogsborough for money in the first place, let alone tricked him into working for the interest of the Trust and being guilty of bribery and fraud. But people in rough circumstances tend to act in extreme ways just to get out of the rut in which they find themselves. Indeed, Germany after World War I also suffered from a dire economic situation, presenting an ideal setting for corruption to emerge.
Dogsborough, being a trusted official known for his honesty, tries to detect any hint of dishonesty behind the shipyard share offer before agreeing to buy it; yet he falls prey to his own self interest when he then decides to push for the “docks” loan now that he will be reaping the profits. It is only once he is in his new country house that he realizes the full extent of the crime he has been drawn into, but by then it is too late to take back his actions. At this point, Dogsborough has fallen into a rut of his own, and this is where Arturo Ui sees his opening to begin his ascent to power. Threatening to reveal what he knows about Dogsborough’s crimes, Ui forces the man to accept him and his gangsters as his only means of salvation. Ui uses his violent methods to clear Dogsborough’s name by killing Sheet, who he claims is the guilty one, and Bowl, the only witness to the true course of events. While Dogsborough knows that things have gotten out of hand and the gangsters are gaining power, he now owes Ui his reputation and must act as a supporter to his cause. All Arturo needed was to find this one weakness in such an influential figure in society in order to jump right in and begin gaining power himself.
Arturo Ui, with the influential Dogsborough as his associate and with other supporters chosen to appeal to popular sentiment, begins to impose his ideas on the society of vegetable dealers. He works to convince them that they are in danger, citing the murders of Sheet and Bowl (which he is in fact responsible for) as proof that the vegetable dealers’ own trade is being threatened. When some of the dealers mention that their businesses seem to be calm and safe, Ui directs the warehouse fire, which he then adds to his evidence that the city is being threatened by some other force. Later, when Hook (the owner of the warehouse) gives an honest testimony about the people responsible for the arson, he is removed from the scene and murdered. By suppressing the voices of those who question the threat, Ui manages to change some peoples’ outlooks and frightens others into agreeing that they are in need of “protection” from these crimes. This is where Ui and his men step in and collect portions of the dealers’ profits in return for their “service.” Thus, the gangsters, led by Arturo Ui, have risen to an ultimate position of control over this society.
These are only some of the events that lead to the final situation in the play, in which Arturo Ui and his gang have achieved control over not only Chicago vegetable dealers but those from the fictional Cicero as well, and they voice plans on expanding their regime into other major cities, eventually taking over the entire country. While the people of Chicago and Cicero realize that what is happening is horrific, both parties “wash their hands in innocence” (95) and hope that Arturo eventually meets “some guys that show their teeth. (95). But the epilogue brings to light the author’s main intent; it encourages people to see events and act upon them, rather than stand back and wait for them to be resolved; and ends on a foreboding note – though these events are over now, similar problems can arise at any time because the causes are ever present: “The womb he crawled from is still going strong.”
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