Woyzeck Summary and Analysis of Scenes 21-24

Scene 21:

Marie and a group of young girls are seated outside her house, sharing stories and songs. One girl sings about a lady with "stockings red, so very red," which one of the other girls judges to be scandalous. The girls argue over who should sing the next song, and Marie settles the dispute by asking Grandmother to tell a story. Grandmother relates a 'black fairy tale' about a poor orphan who is left all alone on Earth, who ventures to the sun and moon and finds that they are trash (a lump of rotten wood and a withered sunflower). He returns to Earth to find that it too is trash (an upturned crockpot), and so he sits down on it and cries forever more. Suddenly, Woyzeck arrives and startles Marie. He says: "Let's go, Marie. It's time." She responds, "Where to?" and he returns, "Who knows."

Scene 22:

Woyzeck leads Marie to an area outside the town where he frightens her with his insinuations that he will kill her, though she does not understand their meaning. Ironically, she says: "I've got to be off, there's dew in the air (I'll catch me death)" and Woyzeck attacks her verbally before stabbing her, with the accusation: "Are you cold, Marie? But you're warm all the same. How hot your lips are! Hot, hot, breath of a whore. -Even so I'd give heaven and earth to kiss them again. Funny: once you're stony cold you don't feel cold no more. You won't feel cold in the morning dew." Then he stabs her over and over until townspeople, having heard her cries, scare him off.

Scene 23: People approach.

Two people arrive near the scene of the murder. Hearing Woyzeck wading into the water coupled with Marie's groans, they assume someone is drowning. One of them wants to flee the eerie scene, pleading: "It's scary, all grey and vapours and wreaths of mist, and the humming of insects like cracked bells." But other decides they should investigate and they set off towards the scene of the murder.

Scene 24: The inn.

Woyzeck has fled the crime scene and come to the inn. He spouts some madness to Kathe, such as "Kathe, you'll be stone cold too one day," and "No, no shoes; you don't need shoes to go to hell." She simply sings and dances, ignoring the overtly murderous overtones of his statements. Suddenly she notices the blood on Woyzeck's hands and causes a scene. When Woyzeck tries to lie that he must have cut his right hand, the innkeeper points out that there is blood smeared on his right elbow as well, making the excuse impossible. Flustered, Woyzeck curses the crowd and yells guiltily: "D'you think I've just done someone in? A murderer, me? Why stare at me? Just look at yourselves! Get out of my way!" before running out the door.


Buchner uses folk song and fairy tales to ground the tale of Woyzeck in the ordinary. Also, according to John Reddick, song has a "transfigurative effect" on the drama, raising it to a more archetypal level in addition to creating mood and underlining the scenes' content. When Scene 21 begins, the little girls argue over one song because it is dirty; "stockings red, so very red" insinuates that the woman in the song is a whore. Even when she is surrounded by children, the bastions of unblemished existence, Marie cannot escape the fact that she has been unfaithful.

If fairy tales frame people's universal outlook, then the Grandmother's 'black fairy tale' neatly outlines Buchner's pessimistic view on man's role in the universe. The orphan represents the basic human, alone and searching for meaning in the universe. Even though he is made to believe that life holds treasures for him, represented by the sun and moon, he finds on closer examination that life is worthless and he is helpless to change his situation. The orphan, like Woyzeck, is essentially good but beaten down by his experience; he cannot escape the pointless, unearned suffering and despair that is inevitable in life. Woyzeck shows up suddenly just as the Grandmother finishes telling the fairy tale, the timing connecting him even more explicitly to the orphan and foreshadowing more despair to come. The fairy tale can also be seen as a distillation of Buchner's own life experience. Once passionate about politics, Buchner retreated to the university and gave up hope for any sort of political revolution or achievement of a utopia. Like the orphan in the story, he was continually disappointed, finding his lofty aspirations (the orphan's sun, moon, and Earth) to be pathetic and useless. But no "crying orphan," Buchner poured his lamentations into his landmark dark, fatalistic brand of literature.

In Scene 22, the themes of heat and cold come to a crescendo. The scene is literally cold as it is a misty night; this is why Marie ironically tries to excuse herself by saying that she will "catch her death" of cold. The chilly scene reflects Woyzeck's cruelty as he taunts Marie and prepares to stab her to death. He goads her about how "hot" she has been, cheating on him with the Drum-Major. Then he plays off her worries about "catch[ing] her death" by assuring her that she will soon indeed be "cold" and dead. Even though we know Woyzeck must be in frenzied and forceful motion as he stabs Marie, he is far from the "hot" Woyzeck who was dizzied by the voice in his head. He leaves the metaphors of "hot" and "cold" as well as the circular phrases behind, saying simply: "Take that, and that! Can't you die? There! There! Still twitching! Not dead yet, not dead? Still twitching? ... Dead are you? Dead! Dead!"

Beyond the use of heat and cold, the scene of the murder is an atmospheric representation of Woyzeck's insanity. Even though Buchner is said to have precipitated literary movements that rejected Romanticism, the scene of Marie's murder is quite typically Romantic. It lies just on the edge of society, a space that often represents the threshold of insanity. It is dark and misty to represent the mind, and quiet save the sound of "the humming of insects like cracked bells," a strange, broken sound that mimics Woyzeck's ruinous state of mind. Woyzeck is more at home in this strange, secluded setting than amongst the people who oppress him. Therefore, it is odd that after the murder, he returns not only to the town, but to the inn--the very scene of Marie's infidelity and his pathetic fight with the Drum-Major. This return reminds us that no matter how hard he tries, man is helpless to escape societal pressures. But, man is still not 'at home' in society. Indeed, once the innkeeper confronts Woyzeck about the blood on his hands, he flees the social scene just as quickly as he arrived.