B. Traven

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Ret Marut mug shot taken in London (1923); Marut is the most popular candidate for Traven's true identity.

B. Traven (Bruno Traven in some accounts, born 23 February 1882 in Schwiebus, died 26 March 1969 in Mexico City) was the pen name of a presumably German novelist, whose real name, nationality, date and place of birth and details of biography are all subject to dispute. One of the few certainties about Traven's life is that he lived for years in Mexico, where the majority of his fiction is also set—including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927). The film adaptation of the same name won three Academy Awards in 1948.


  • Von den dreien: Staat, Regierung und Ich, bin Ich der Stärkste. Das merkt Euch!
    • Of the three: state, government and I, I am the strongest. Remember that!
    • Der Ziegelbrenner, 3rd December 1919, p. 25
  • Ich warte nicht auf die Einigkeit; denn ich bin die Einigkeit. / Ich warte nicht auf die Masse; denn ich bin die Masse. / Ich warte nicht auf die Revolution; denn ich bin die Revolution. / Ehe die Revolution ist, muß der Revolutionär sein! / Ehe die Masse ist, muß der Einzelne sein! / Ehe die Einigkeit ist, muß der Eine sein, der Selbe! / Das Wort muß sein, bevor das Feldgeschrei und die Parole sein können.
    • I am not waiting for unity; because I am unity. / I'm not waiting for the crowd; because I am the crowd. / I'm not waiting for the revolution; because I am the revolution. / Before the revolution is, the revolutionary must be! / Before the mass is, the individual must be! / Before there is unity, the one must be the same! / The word must be before the shouting and the slogan can be.
    • Der Ziegelbrenner, 21 December 1921, p. 18
  • My personal history would not be disappointing to readers, but it is my own affair which I want to keep to myself. I am in fact in no way more important than is the typesetter for my books, the man who works the mill; ... no more important than the man who binds my books and the woman who wraps them and the scrubwoman who cleans up the office.
    • Quoted by Randy F. Nelson in The Almanac of American Letters (1981), p. 237

The Death Ship (1926)[edit]

Full text online at Libcom

  • The death ship is it I am in,
    All I have lost, nothing to win
    • "Song of an American Sailor", p. 2
  • The class I belong to always has to wait and wait, stand long nights and days in long files to get a cup of coffee and a slice of bread. Everybody in the world, official or boss, takes it for granted that our sort of people have ages, of time to waste. It is different with those who have money. They can arrange everything with money. Therefore they never have to wait. We who cannot pay with cold cash have to pay with our time instead. Suppose you get sore at the official who lets you wait and wait, and you say something about the citizen’s right it won’t help you a bit. He then lets you wait ten times longer, and you never do it again. He is the king. Do not forget that. Don’t ever believe that kings were done with when the fathers of the country made a revolution.
    • p. 41
  • There is no reason why I should run after a job. I'd have to stand up before the manager like a beggar, cap in hand, as sheepishly as if I were asking him to let me shine his shoes with my spit. In fact, usually it is less humiliating to beg for a meal than to ask for work. Can the skipper sail his bucket without sailors? Or can the engineer, no matter how clever he is, build a locomotive without workers? Nevertheless, the worker has to stand with his cap in hand and beg for a job. He has to stand there like a dog about to be beaten.
    • p. 69
  • The worker who has a job feels superior to a worker who is without one. Workers are not at all as chummy toward each other as some people think when they see them marching with red flags to Union Square and getting noisy about a paradise in Russia. Workers might have a big word in all affairs were it not for the middle-class ideas they can't shake off. The one who makes the delicate parts of an engine feels superior to the man who stands before a lathe making bolts by the ten thousand. And the man at the lathe feels superior to the poor Czech who gathers up the scraps from the floor and carries them in a wheelbarrow to the back-yard.
    • p. 70
  • Imperator Caesar Augustus: don't you ever worry! You will always have gladiators. And you will have more than you will ever need. The strongest, the finest, the bravest men will be your gladiators; they will fight for you, and dying they will hail you: Morituri te salutamus! Hail, Cæsar Augustus! The moribund are greeting you. Happy? I am the happiest man on earth to have the honor to fight and to die for you, you god Imperator.
    • p. 119
  • No use to preach to the working-man courtesy and politeness when at the same time the working-man is not given working conditions under which he can always stay polite and soft-mannered. One must not expect clean speech from a man compelled to live in filth and always overtired and usually hungry.
    • p. 127
  • If the company wants to beat competition, the drag and the fireman have to pay for it. Some way or other. Both the company and the crew cannot win. One has to be the loser in this battle, as in all other battles.
    • p. 131
  • People who do not know what hard work really means and do nothing but just figure out new laws against criminal syndicalism and against communist propaganda usually say, when they see a man at hard work: "Oh, these guys are used to it, they don't feel it at all. They have no refined thinking-capacity, as we have. The chain-gang means nothing to them; it's just like a vacation."
    They use that speech as a dope to calm their consciences, which, underneath, hurt them when they see human beings treated worse than mules. But there is no such thing in the world as getting used to pain and suffering. With that "Oh, they are used to that!" people justify even the beating of defenseless police-prisoners. Better kill them; it is truly more merciful.
    • p. 132
  • There is no getting used to pain and suffering. You become only hard-boiled, and you lose a certain capacity to be impressed by feelings. Yet no human being will ever become used to sufferings to such an extent that his heart will cease to cry out that eternal prayer of all human beings: "I hope that my liberator comes!" He is the master of the world, he who can make his coins out of the hope of slaves.
    • p. 132
  • A good capitalist system does not know waste. This system cannot allow these tens of thousands of men without papers to roam about the world. Why are insurance premiums paid? For pleasure? Everything must produce its profit. Why not make premiums produce profit?
    • p. 137
  • Why passports? Why immigration restriction? Why not let human beings go where they wish to go, North Pole or South Pole, Russia or Turkey, the States or Bolivia? Human beings must be kept under control. They cannot fly like insects about the world into which they were born without being asked. Human beings must be brought under control, under passports, under finger-print registrations. For what reason? Only to show the omnipotence of the state, and of the holy servant of the state, the bureaucrat. Bureaucracy has come to stay. It has become the great and almighty ruler of the world. It has come to stay to whip human beings into discipline and make them numbers within the state. With foot-printings of babies it has begun; the next stage will be the branding of registration numbers upon the back, properly filed, so that no mistake can be made as to the true nationality of the insect. A wall has made China what she is today. The walls all nations have built up since the war for democracy will have the same effect. Expanding markets and making large profits are a religion. It is the oldest religion perhaps, for it has the best-trained priests, and it has the most beautiful churches; yes, sir.
    • p. 137
  • Morals are taught and preached not for the sake of heaven, but to assist those people on earth who have everything they need and more to retain their possessions and to help them to accumulate still more. Morals is the butter for those who have no bread.
    • p. 143
  • It is an old rule, only not sufficiently obeyed, but a good rule: If you do not wish to be lied to, do not ask questions! The only real defense civilized man has against anybody who bothers him is to lie. There would be no lies if there were no questions.
    • p. 150
  • [After the war] The governments thought it wiser, finally, to make up again. Time had come when all governments were convinced it would be cheaper and more profitable to talk peace and wait for a better chance. The burglars and gangsters sat down to an elegant peace-banquet. The workers, and the little plain people of all countries, had to pay the damages that is, the hospital bills, the funeral expenses, the tombs for unknown soldiers, and the bills for all the banquets and conferences which left everybody in the world, save the hotel-owners, exactly where they had been before. And all those little people, who had, not profits, but all the losses and all the deaths, were now allowed to wave flags and handkerchiefs at the victorious armies coming back covered with glory and everlasting fame.
    • p. 153
  • If all people had a decent job to occupy their minds, and regular meals to satisfy their hunger, most crimes would not be committed.
    • p. 159
  • Bravery on the battlefield? Don't make me laugh. Bravery on the field of work. Here, of course, you don't get any medals; no mention in the report, either. You are no hero here. Just a bum. Or a communist always making trouble and never satisfied with the conditions as ordered by the Lord himself to help the profits.
    • p. 174
  • We all were dead. All of us were convinced that we were on our way to the fishes. Funny that even among the dead these fine distinctions of rank and class do not cease to exist. I wonder what goes on night and day beneath the surface of a cemetery, particularly in the cemeteries of Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
    • p. 177
  • Ordinary people can never fall over the walls, because they never dare climb high enough to see what is beyond the walls.
    • p. 190
  • Whatever a being may own is of no importance, of no concern at all. It is gone and useless. All we have is our breath. I shall fight for it with teeth and nails.
    • p. 222

The Cotton Pickers (1927)[edit]

Full text online at Libcom

  • There's absolutely nothing that you can't learn if you go about it one step at a time.
    • p. 52

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927)[edit]

Full text online at Libcom

  • The treasure which you think not worth taking trouble and pains to find, this alone is the real treasure you are longing for all your life. The glittering treasure you are hunting for day and night lies buried on the other side of that hill yonder.
  • Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world.
    • Chapter 1
  • It is always more convenient to dream of what might be.
    • Chapter 2
  • It isn't the gold that changes man, it is the power which gold gives to man that changes the soul of man. This power, though, is only imaginary. If not recognized by other men, it does not exist.
    • Chapter 4
  • A working-man's life is a dog's life, that's what it is.
    • Chapter 4
  • The air bit into your lungs because it was filled with poisonous gas escaping from the refineries. That sting in the air which made breathing so hard and unpleasant and choked your throat constantly meant that people were making money–much money.
    • Chapter 8
  • If you wish to survive, you have to win the battle.
    • Chapter 12

The Bridge in the Jungle (1929)[edit]

  • One becomes a philosopher [...] by living among people who are not of his own race and who speak a different language [...] A trip to a Central American jungle to watch how Indians behave near a bridge won't make you see either the jungle or the bridge or the Indians if you believe that the civilization you were born into is the only one that counts. Go and look around with the idea that everything you learned in school and college is wrong.

Government (1931)[edit]

  • The prison was very important—as everywhere on earth. Everywhere the building of a prison is the first step in the organization of a civilized state.

March to the Monteria (1933)[edit]

  • It was as though over this solid dense world of plants floated a call urging creation to beget a new planet, a fantastic one in which not man or beast would be the master but plants. One felt lonely and abandoned, separated from all the remaining world, in spite of the long file of peons and the grunting and snorting pack animals marching along mechanically. The marchers, men and animals, seemed to move without volition, almost dreamlike, into the world of plants to be swallowed up by it.

Trozias (1936)[edit]

  • From the far distance sounded the muffled howling of a family of monkeys, monos gritones, passing the night in the crowns of the mighty trees. It echoed through the jungle like the roar of an angry mountain lion. Gruesome and terrifying, it seemed to tear the night apart, but it did not disturb the jungle. It sang and fiddled, chirped and whistled, whined and whimpered, rejoiced and lamented its ever-unchanging song with the constancy of the roaring sea.

External links[edit]

  • Encyclopedic article on B. Traven on Wikipedia
  • Media related to B. Traven on Wikimedia Commons