Characters “von” Class – Heather Carter

I feel like there is a lot of pressure in going first but here is my paper. It is in the form of a Synthetic essay.

Heather Carter

Steve Krause

German 265

4-18-12

Characters “von” Class

            How a society is structured often affects every aspect of its citizen’s lives. Social structures affect what we value, whom we are attracted to, what respects we attribute to someone and what we aspire to become. This theme is seen throughout history weather it be in the marriage of Princes Dianna to Prince Charles or how hoards of people respond to the President in comparison to local representatives. People respect class and they will sacrifice much, including love, to climb the social latter.

“Of course he’s the right one. You don’t understand these things Hertha. Anybody is the right one. Provided he is an aristocrat and has a position and good looks, naturally (pg.14).” ~Effi Briest

        In the novels “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann and “Effi Briest” by Theodor Fontane both authors explore the outcomes of individuals who are class concisions. The two main characters in each book transcend the class structures of their respected society in the hopes of a more renowned future but both come to dismal ends. In this paper I will investigate the ways in which both authors exemplified class in their main characters by looking at how each character achieved their class, how it affected their relationships and where that achievement ultimately lead them.

In Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice” the main character Gustav Aschenbach “…or von Aschenbach, as he had been known officially since his fiftieth birthday… (Mann, 1)” was no born with social standing but achieved it and was thus given “von” which denoted his improved class. In the case of Theodor Fontanes main character Effi Briest, she was able to improve her social standing through marriage that was solely arranged by her parents for class gain. Both characters seam to have given a great deal up in their pursuit of elevated class, neither character seam to have a wealth of close friends, be embraced by people of their class or achieve anything that would compare with self-actualization. This leaves the reader begging the question; would these characters have had more fulfilling childhoods had they not been so intent on gaining class? Would Effi Briest have enjoyed playing with her friends and conversing with her cousin? In Achenbach’s case there is no reason to question: “From childhood up he was pushed on every side to achievement, and achievement of no ordinary kind; so his young days never knew the sweet idleness and blithe laissez aller that belong to youth (Mann, 9).”

The relationships they allowed themselves to experience were also influenced by how they viewed class. Effie seams to have given up a boy she might have loved; “Marry him? My goodness no. Part of him’s still a boy. Gerrt is a man, a handsome man whom I can show off in society and who is going to be something in the world. What can you be thinking of Mama (Fontane, 25)?” Effie Married Innstetten because he was a man of prominence. She only experienced social fulfillment through the relationship. In comparison Aschenbach is enamored by a boy, Tadzio who is described in mythological terms akin to a Greek sculpture. As Aschenbach becomes increasingly infatuated with Tadzio he beings to see himself as flawed and longs for youths imperfection. The reader is able to learn what each character wants to aspire to and how they are driven by the idea of improvement by what they idolize in the people they seek after. As their stories come to a close neither are left satisfied both are left longing.

The abysmal ends of these main characters lie in their inability to fulfill what was “socially acceptable.” Aschenbach learns that: “Passion is like crime: it does not thrive on the established order and the common round; it welcomes every blow dealt the bourgeois structure, every weakening of the social fabric, because therein it feels a sure hope of its own advantage (Mann, 53).” Due to his desire to stay near Tadzio Aschenbach goes against what is “honorable” by keeping it a secret that there is a cholera outbreak in Venice, thus become sick himself and dying on a beach. Effie Briest ends tragically as an outcast, thrown out from the society she disparity wanted to fit into due to a relationship she had with a man other than her husband. It seams that both characters ended tragically because they ultimately sought relationships that rendered their prominence useless.

The novels “Death in Venice” and “Effi Briest” both incorporate, to a large existent, the demands and expectations of society. Both of the main characters give up a great deal to clime to the social latter and gain prominence. Both characters then become associated in relationships that then lead to the downfall.

People will jump through extraordinary hopes to gain prominence. Princes Dianna, it is alleged, entered into a marriage with a man she did not love to gain a title but even she proved that it was not enough to solely gain social standing, that a life without passion, lived merely to be socially acceptable is unfulfilling and does not last. She was able to gain a title and all the privileges, press, and money that came with that title but renounced it for the prospect of a love centered relationship. Once conclusion that can be argued from these two plots and her legacy is that no matter how alluring social status may be it alone is not enough to sustain a person and will ultimately give way if it is not accompanied with passion.

“You will live a lonely life, or if you don’t want that you will probably have to move out of your own sphere (Fontane, 187)

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