“Those Are As Brothers” Summary: Nancy Hale Short Story

“Those Are as Brothers” is a short story by Nancy Hale that was selected for the anthology 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories. It’s about a Jewish refugee and a woman with a traumatic past who have a bond from their suffering. It can be read at The Library of America. Here’s a summary of “Those Are as Brothers”.

“Those Are as Brothers” Summary

It’s summer in the Connecticut Valley and people come and go at their homes without worry. At the house on the riverbank, two little boys play outside all day.

Mr. Loeb lives in the gardener’s cottage of a big empty house where he tends the garden and grounds, and can be heard singing in German. He’s a short stout man, unmarried, and a Jewish refugee. In the evenings, he walks to the house on the riverbank with the two boys to visit with the German governess, Fräulein, and they talk in German. Mr. Loeb understands English but doesn’t speak much of it.

Fräulein is sorry for Mr. Loeb because he’s a refuge and was in a concentration camp, but she also feels superior to Jews. She speaks critically of Hitler and the Nazis to him and he says little in reply, mostly just nodding.

In the evenings, the children’s mother, Mrs. Mason, sits in the garden or, if she’s tense, in the living room. She reads a lot. When she reads the news about the Nazis, she feels a parallel to her own situation. Her ex-husband has the same spirit as those people and she understands how the ruthless swallow the helpless. She knows how the people of Europe feel, being smashed to the Nazi will. Her life was the same thing on a tiny scale.

Now safe, she gradually feels her assurance coming back and the fear receding. She imagines the same things is happening in Mr. Loeb. Fear is still a habit, though, and it can arise out of nowhere. Even though Mrs. Mason’s ex-husband is a thousand miles away, she’s still affected by the fear.

Through the summer, a young man from across the river, Mr. Worthington, visits Mrs. Mason. They sit in her living room and smoke or go out on his boat. Once when they struck a log, she got very afraid. He’s reassuring but the fear has to go away slowly and on its own.

Mr. Worthington is falling in love with Mrs. Mason but she’s too guarded to return the feeling. She knows he’s nothing like her husband, but she still can’t allow herself to be vulnerable.

During their evening talks, Fräulein tells Mr. Loeb about the children—one is very obedient, the other always up to something. She also tells him about Mr. Mason.

She doesn’t give details, claiming he wouldn’t believe it, but she stresses that he treated her terribly. Mrs. Mason is proud and wouldn’t let on how much she suffered, but Fräulein would hear her crying at night. Now, she can forget him and be happy. Mr. Loeb doesn’t say anything.

“Those Are as Brothers” Summary, Cont’d

In mid summer, one of the boys, Hugh, has a birthday party and everyone attends. Mr. Worthington demonstrates a mysterious math trick. Mr. Loeb does a silly card trick that the boys love.

After the cake, Mr. Worthington asks about the concentration camps. He tells unflattering stories about Germans from when he visited—they picked fights and were bad losers. He believes Mr. Loeb can forget all that now and enjoy being free.

Mr. Loeb points out that for many the situation continues. He explains, with English help from Mrs. Mason, how people who’ve been oppressed have a common bond with their shared memories. Mrs. Mason best understands what he means. She can imagine a vast sea of anguished faces like a brotherhood that, united, take on dignity due to their sheer numbers and shared suffering. She never thought of this before.

The children are sent to bed and Mrs. Mason tucks them in and says goodnight. Only Mr. Worthington is still in the living room; Fräulein and Mr. Loeb are talking outside. When Mrs. Mason comes down, Mr. Worthington takes her hand and declares his love. For a moment, Mrs. Mason is free and unguarded as they look at each other. But then she comes back to herself and draws away.

Mr. Loeb is busier with his work in August when the home owner, Mrs. Sisson, comes back from California. Mrs. Mason doesn’t know her well. They nod at each other and make a little small talk. Fräulein says she treats her servants badly.

One afternoon when Mrs. Mason comes outside, Mr. Loeb talks to Fräulein at the gate. He’s more animated than usual and Fräulein speaks calmly. He looks like he could cry. Fräulein explains the situation.

Mrs. Sisson criticized his working speed and Mr. Loeb can’t ignore it; he won’t keep working for her if she speaks to him like that. She says she’s going to report him to the Refugee Committee in New York, which will prevent him from getting another job. She’ll say he doesn’t do his work and talks back.

Mrs. Mason and Mr. Loeb make eye contact and she understands. She’s suddenly not afraid and says she will speak to Mrs. Sisson. Fräulein doesn’t think it will help. Mrs. Mason will also write the Refugee Committee and defend Mr. Loeb.

Mr. Loeb thanks her and loses his tension and the fear in his eyes. She tells him not to worry; she won’t let anything happen to him.

I hope this summary of “Those Are as Brothers” by Nancy Hale was helpful.