Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening represents an adult’s reflection on childhood, the repercussions of ignorance, and the consequence of inhibiting the spread of knowledge to those without it. Although very brief and lacking in extreme detail, this work has a profound aura; it leaves the reader with thoughts of how things could have resolved themselves better had key characters acted differently. It also gives a sense of the sanctity of youth and the dangers of growing up too fast. When we are forced to learn on our own, without the guidance of those who we desperately need it from, do we end up in irreversible positions that we never could have fathomed in the first place? This play gives definitive answers to all the questions surrounding the coming of age, the Spring Awakening.
Looking at childhood (namely adolescence), from both an outside perspective and inside, reveals just how differently children and adults view the world. The children in this play see the world as full of discoveries that need to be made in order to grow up. In addition, they don’t necessarily want to find out all these things on their own. The guidance of the adult figures, e.g. teachers and parents, is sorely missed by the children in the story. When trying to learn where children come from, the character Wendla naturally turns to her mother. Rather than even attempt to answer her daughter’s question, Frau Bergman immediately succumbs to the awkwardness of the situation and delivers a short, circumventing monologue. It is an attempt to deter her daughter, not to enlighten her. It is apparent to the children that they cannot look to their parents for help, and so they must learn on their own.
The teachers in the story are no better. Upon the suicide of one of the schoolboys, it is found that a certain one of his friends has supplied him with a complete manual of the human reproductive system. The reaction on the part of the schoolmasters and teachers is to expel the student immediately. A meeting between the student, Melchior, and the teachers reveals that the teachers have no interest in hearing what he has to say. The subject of human sexuality is simply too explicit to be discussed by non-adults, regardless of its level of accuracy on the part of the child. The final result is that even though he has done nothing wrong, indeed, he has figured sex out for himself, Melchior is sent to a reformatory.
It seems that the children are trapped in a cycle of ignorance and punishment. They are given no help by the ones they trust, and when they figure anything out on their own, they are chastised for being essentially “out of line.” Their only way to enlightenment lies in self-discovery and consequent punishment. However, the punishment some of them receive is simply too great for anyone of such an age.
The harshest reality of the entire story lies in Wendla. After her mother’s failure to share any knowledge with her, she is raped by Melchior. However, she was told that she needed to love a man more deeply than she was capable of in order to have a child. She has no idea that she is with child, and once again her mother fails to help her. Her mother lies to her once more, this time insisting that she has anemia. Finally, though, when it no longer matters, her mother tells her that she is pregnant. Shortly after, Wendla is killed by a failed abortion. Her life was the price she had to pay in order to find the answer to the one question she wanted to know more than anything.
By keeping her daughter in the dark, Frau Bergman has destroyed what should be most important to her. In addition, she has stolen the chance for Wendla to ever grow up. The process of growing, the sacrament of the naivete that only children posses, has completely ended for Wendla. That is something that can never be replaced, and it is also something for which one can never be forgiven.
Knowledge is meant to be spread. Nobody is meant to be left ignorant of the world around them. This play shows that ignorance is the most powerful tool we have to aid in our own demise.