The Broken Jug is a comedy, written by Heinrich Von Kleist in the Eighteenth century, which is centered on the theme of injustices in society. The play reveals the scandalous affairs of a corrupt legal system, in which the judge, a traditional symbolic figure of peace and nobility and social equality, is instead exposed as an incarnate form of a morally corrupt and perverse society. Each of the plays major characters are therefore created as figures that serve as implicit representations of Kleist's moral and political views.
In The Broken Jug, Kleist constructs a literary structure in which symbolism plays a crucial role in defining the essential nature of the play. As a result of this structure, we often see discrepancies between the "real and symbolic" themes in the play. Kleist constructs the play and its characters around superficial appearances that later reveal their symbolic or "real" nature.
A consistent theme in Kleist's work is that of trust and this aspect is figured prominently throughout the comedy. Kleist maintains a strong belief that all genuine human relationships should be based upon feelings expressed in the form of unquestioning confidence. This is because feelings derived from reason and rational, serve merely to deceive and create a false sensual experience that is not real. Emotional experiences that originate from the heart, however, cannot be deceived and are therefore authentic and real.
Kleist therefore uses a form of juxtaposition in the play to create an almost irreconcilable tension between the idealistic notions of emotional freedom and that of determinism, which is defined by a sense of total and rational order. His work poses a paradox between the contradicting ideas on freedom and reason.
This theme is demonstrated in the play primarily through Ruprecht and Eve and the paradoxical themes of freedom and reason that are illustrated by their relationship. In the Broken Jug, Judge Adam frightens an illiterate young woman, Eve, by making her believe that her fiancé, Ruprecht, is about to be conscripted and sent to the East Indies from which he is unlikely to return. The judge offers to write a letter saying that Ruprecht is unfit for service. When he visits Eve in her room late one night, he tries, unsuccessfully to use the letter to make her accede to his sexual advances.
Surprised by the arrival of Eve's fiancé, Judge Adam escapes through the window, breaking Eve's mother's jug, Ruprecht is accused of breaking the jug by Eve's mother, Frau Marthe. Frau Marthe then insists on taking the case to the local law court, over which ironically, Judge Adam presides, in order to seek justice for her broken jug and her daughter soiled honor.
Meanwhile, Eve refuses to incriminate Ruprecht, but at the same time, refuses to name the person who broke the jug for fear of persecution from Judge Adam. She declares that, "it is Heaven's wonderful decree that closes my mouth in this case."