The novel ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ is set in the 1930s, a decade of excess, ostentatiousness and sexual freedom, aligned with significant changes in politics leading to one of the worst wars in history. The narrative begins amidst a ‘Nouveau Riche’ society, addressing individual characters that each express the liberation of views and who are the image of change in societal opinions. Entwined in the story is the gradual build up of the Nazi regime and the discrimination and isolation of these groups of people. By the end of the book, there is a final explosion of political dictatorship as the decade of glamour crumbles and Berlin is launched into World War Two. In the lead up to the war the protagonist, Isherwood, examines the key concerns of his age through the different people he encounters. These concerns are the social views on sexuality, drugs and homosexuality, the rise of Hitler and the economic prosperity contrasted with the poor.
After World War One there was a liberation of views regarding sexuality, drugs and homosexuality, which had never been expressed in society so openly before.
This was a definite turn away from the former, conservative Victorian era, and into a new age of opinions and acceptance. In ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ Isherwood conveys these freedoms through the key personalities he meets. The most prominent symbol of sexual promiscuity in the novel is the character Sally Bowles, an upper class mistress who becomes a close friend of Isherwood and tells him about her changing relationships with wealthy men. Isherwood positions the reader to interpret Sally’s remarks about her sexual life casually, as she begins conversations with comments such as: I’ve been making love to a dirty old Jew producer. I'm hoping he'll give me a contract - but no go, so far.’ This familiarises the reader with the openness towards sexuality in the 1930s. Sally also optimises the continual use of drugs in society, as she constantly gets drunk and introduces Isherwood to an abundance of alcoholic beverages; ‘Sally always interrupted to say that it was time to be … smoking a cigarette or having another glass of whisky’. Homosexuality is also explored in the novel. Breaking free from previous social codes against homosexuality, Isherwood lives with a gay couple, Peter and Otto, who, due to previous prejudices against homosexuality, frequently deny showing sexual interest in each other although they both know they care for one another. Isherwood is introduced to their quarrels as Otto flirts with girls to maliciously tease Peter, and try’s to unveil the attraction Peter has for him. However, the fact that the two men live with each other is the first step to addressing this emerging concern of the age.
In the 1930s there was also extreme economic prosperity from people who had profiteered from the end of World War One, which contrasted strongly with parts of society who were exceptionally poor. Isherwood examines the focus on classes and how some of the poor people exploited the rich, for support. He delves into the lives of the extremely rich and the dirt poor and notices how they interact and for what reasons. The extreme wealth is symbolised by Bernhard Landauer, a Jewish business man, who’s father owns the ‘Landauers’ department store. Isherwood presents Bernhard’s life style as full of glamour and excess. He delivers many course meals and has an expensive holiday house, which he invites Isherwood to. As Bernhard presents Isherwood with one luxury after another, Isherwood ceases to be amazed by the elegance and begins to expect it. He looks forward to seeing Bernhard for all the extras he gets with it. By depicting his relationship with the wealthy like this, the reader examines how society did exploit the rich. The same relationships arise between Sally and her rich clients as she scavenges what expensive gifts she can off them, whilst offering