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Gerhart Hauptmann, Before Daybreak, First Performed to a Scandalized Reception (October 20, 1889)

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HELEN. How could that possibly . . .?

LOTH. My father had worked his way up to foreman at the soap factory, and we lived right by the plant. Our windows overlooked the factory yard. I got to see a lot of things. There was a laborer who had been working at the factory for five years. He began to have violent coughing spells, and he kept getting thinner. I still remember when my father told us about him at dinner one night. He said, "Burmeister" – that was the worker's name – "Burmeister has TB, and it's going to kill him if he works in that soap factory much longer. His own doctor says so." The man had eight children. And weak and emaciated as he was, he hadn't any chance of finding work anywhere else. So he had to stay in the soap factory, and the boss even felt self-righteous for keeping him on – thought of himself as a philanthropist, exceedingly humane. One August afternoon – the heat was not to be believed – Burmeister was struggling with a wheelbarrow full of lime – trying to get it across the yard. I was just looking out the window. I saw him stop, then stop again, and finally keel over onto the cobblestones. I ran down to him. My father came. So did some other workers. You could hear the death rattle deep in his throat. His mouth was filled with blood. I helped carry him into the house. He was just a bundle of chalky rags that reeked of all kinds of chemicals. Before we'd even gotten him into the house, he was dead.

HELEN. How horrible!

LOTH. Hardly a week later, we pulled his wife out of the river into which the factory dumped its waste lye. And so, my dear Miss Krause, when a man is aware of all the things of which I am now aware, he can find neither rest nor peace, believe me. A simple little piece of soap that no one else in the world could think ill of, or even a pair of clean, well-cared-for hands are enough to depress me beyond endurance.

HELEN. I saw something like that once myself. It was horrible. God, it was horrible.

LOTH. What was it?

HELEN. The son of one of our workers was carried in here half-dead . . . about . . . three years ago.

LOTH. An accident?

HELEN. Yes. Over there in the big shaft.

LOTH. One of the miners, then?

HELEN. Of course. Most of the young men around here end up working in the pits. Another son of the same man also hauled coal down there. He was in a mine accident too.

LOTH. Both dead?

HELEN. Both dead . . .

Source of English translation: GERHART HAUPTMANN'S "BEFORE DAYBREAK:" A TRANSLATION AND AN INTRODUCTION by Peter Bauland. Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures; no. 92. Copyright © 1979 by the University of North Carolina Press. Dramatis Personae, p. 4; Act I, pp. 19-25; Act II, pp. 35-38.

Used by permission of the publisher.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhart Hauptmann, Vor Sonnenaufgang. Soziales Drama (orig. 1889), edited by Brigitte E. Schatzky. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964. Dramatis Personae, p. 38; Act I, pp. 57-65; Act II, pp. 79-83; Notes, pp. 146-51.

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