Masereel’s Depiction of Life in the City

It’s easy to be caught off guard by the lack of unity throughout Die Stadt. I (almost frantically) flipped through the slides several times just trying to find consistency. I assumed the novel was intended to be a continuous narrative and was met with a wide variety of scenes. I began to understand that the series of woodcuts were not intended to tell one particular story; each could introduce its own story. Images ranged from dense crowds, busy train stations and factories, to grieving widows and family dinners.

The amount of detail in the novel is impressive. I enjoyed discovering features in each image that I wouldn’t have noticed at a first glance. I felt that the expressionist style and lack of color enhanced the scenes. The fact that each slide was hand carved showed Masereel’s wholehearted dedication to Die Stadt. It was clear that he wanted to depict almost all aspects of life in the city, however I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more behind his thinking.

A quick google search led me to a biography of Frans Masereel and a review of Die Stadt. These pages helped me make better connections about the author’s intent.

I learned that Frans Masereel worked as an artist for several journals and magazines. He developed his dramatic black and white wood cutting style as a political cartoonist. His criticism of urban society is evident in Die Stadt. A large part of the novel was characterized by violence, death, and loneliness. Despite many scenes of overcrowded streets, the viewer cannot help but notice the insignificance and isolation among the characters. It’s ironic to view one image of people dancing and mingling, only for the next to depict a man committing suicide.

From a distant perspective, the city appears to be a place of hope; an opportunity for growth and change. However, once the audience is shown the coping mechanisms that characters developed in living a new, urbanized lifestyle, no captions are necessary to show Die Stadt is a rather unforgiving place.