As in the first story, culture is not just a sub-theme; it is defined in the setting, in the conflict, in the characters and the tone of the story. In this case it involves leaving one culture (low income) and joining the high-tone community of wealth. Mrs. Jordan did not have to start suckling babies for a living, although when her son Leo, her own flesh and blood, becomes wealthy, and shuns his mother. Leo leaves his poor mother just a thousand shillings a month for her subsistence. It is obvious that Leo — due to his rise into the cultural stratosphere of great wealth — has become aloof, selfish, and lost his interest in family matters, or perhaps his humanity per se; hes been giving his aging mother a thousand shillings for twenty years without a raise to cover inflation. Notwithstanding the shabby treatment, Mrs. Jordan is in denial about her sons unconscionable lack of empathy or support. The only positive thing that happens is when Leos latest and youngest wife Franziska takes an interest in Mrs. Jordan and visits her, helping her.
In The Barking ironically Mrs. Jordan and Franziska “collude in their refusal to acknowledge [Leos] ruthlessness and brutality” (Lennox, 2006, p. 40). Indeed, only when “senility overtakes old Mrs. Jordan” does she manage to “find expression for her rage” (Lennox 40). That expression, which brings another picture of a deprived socioeconomic culture into focus, manifests itself as Mrs. Jordan imagines that she is surrounded by, “the barking of innumerable dogs” (Lennox 40). The imagined dogs are “her revenge” getting back at Leo because Leo had refused to let his mother keep a pet “because the dog couldnt stand him” (Lennox 40). So readers are treated to irony in the fact that Mrs. Jordan didnt really come to grips with the injustice that was dealt her until she is senile.
Mrs. Jordan was so intimidated by her son Leo (prior to her senility and the barking dogs) that she wouldnt tell his wife Franziska about some of her injuries and illnesses. For example, Mrs. Jordan deliberately minimized her injured knee and asked Franziska not to tell Leo. But wait, Franziska had already told Leo, and he had “first been angry and then [said] he couldnt drive out to Hietzing for such a trifle” (Backmann 79). A trifle? His mother, barely scraping by on his penny-pinching stipend, had an injured knee and Leo couldnt be bothered to stop and see her? But Franziska brings medicines and arranges for a doctor to see Mrs.
Jordan, albeit she “couldnt let the doctor know who she was, or who the old woman was, because it would have been bad for Leos reputation, and Leos reputation was important to Franziska, too” (Bachmann 79).
Another line of attack vis-a-vis the wealth-related cultural chasm that was spelled out in the thesis to this paper is offered by one of the editors of German Women Writers of the Twentieth Century, Elizabeth Herrmann, who described the storys cultural setting as the “stifling atmosphere of a petit bourgeois home in the fashionable Viennese suburb of Hietzing” (Herrmann, 1978, p. 77). There is “complete separation” between the “narrow space of the clearly defined female subculture and the world of successful, educated males,” Herrmann explains (77). What divides and defines this cultural separation is “fear, confusion, and the helplessness of the women, on one side, and the egotistic cruelty and arrogance of the man on the other” (77).
It is possible that Bachmann was writing about her own experiences with power and arrogance. In a biographical piece, Helen Fehervary writes, “the complexity of Bachmanns life brings to mind some of her contemporaries who were equally gifted, troubled, and destroyed by the institutions of power with which they became involved” (Fehervary, 1989, p. 55).
Bachmann, Ingeborg. “The Barking.” In German Women Writers of the Twentieth Century,
E. Herrmann & E. Spits, Eds. London: Pergamon Press, 1978, pp. 78-86.
Devi, Mahasweta. “Breast-Giver.” In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics, G.
Spivak, Ed. New York & London: Metheum, 1987, pp. 222-240.
Fehervary, Helen. “Ingebord Bachmann: Her Part, Let It Survive.” New German Critique,
Issue 47 (1989): 53-58.
Herrmann, Elizabeth, and Spitz, Edna. German Women Writers of the Twentieth Century.