Dialectic Essay

Sorry it’s late. I had trouble finding out how to post. I’m bad with computers.

Truth and Judgement in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony

One of the more interesting things that  Peter Neumeyer discusses in his essay, “Do Not Teach Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’” might be in his more accurate translation of “the ‘explorer’ called by Kafka a Forschungsreisende [r]” rather as one who ‘is “‘seeking for answers,’ a Forschung being an inquiry” (Neumyer 107).This re-translation is important first because it re-defines or reaffirms the traveler’s role in the story as judge. Secondly, it sets up a reading of “In the Penal Colony” as a search for truth. Of course, this reading is not new to Neumeyer. Scholars have been debating the ramifications of Kafka’s work with moderate success for years, mostly through the lens of religious allegory and modern times as either worse or better.

To establish the religious allegory needed for either argument, readers should first establish Kafka’s somewhat obvious symbols. First, Kafka sets up a dichotomy between the Old Commandant, whom he describes in mythic terms as not only the founder of the colony, but also the “designer” of the machine and the source of all the laws – and the New Commandant, who, “obviously, although slowly, was intending to introduce…new procedure.” Finally, the Traveler, as a stranger to the Colony also stands for the modern man.

The first thesis, which Neumyer argues, suggests that modern times are a degenerate form of a past perfection especially on a moral plane. Such an argument is not entirely difficult to make or understand. Most important to this reading though is probably the Officer. First, he is the most articulate of the characters, and the only one that is forthcoming with the Traveler. Note-worthy too is the fact that, though he is now the only one fanatical about the Old Commandant, the Machine and the “transfiguration” which it can insight in “the martyred [or condemned man’s] face” he is not the only one who practices the laws. The Condemned Man, for instance, does not fight the sentence, and neither does the New Commandant. In the least, then, the Officer’s true belief is admirable for the Traveler.

On the other hand, however, readers also interpret the story as a look at Christianity and its emphasis of forgiveness. The vengeful Old Testament God is then represented by the Old Commandant, while the New Commandment represents the New Commandant’s forgiving nature. Importantly here, the Traveler’s opinion is explicitly with the New Commandant, in whom who he “has hope.” The Traveler, whose voice counts as important for both champions of the new and old ways, states he is  “‘opposed to the process,’” which he believes to be cruel. Another point also comes when the Officer creates his own sentence – to “BE JUST” – and the machine stabs him repeatedly without giving him an epiphany. If one does not believe that the machine could ever be just, than it was merely because the thing was too old, but even if it was a symbolic gesture, than the Officer experiences the same meaningless pain and violence that he had inflicted on others. The Condemned Man’s pardon likewise reflects the goodness of forgiveness.

Having explored both of these briefly, however, there still seems to be no satisfying consensus to the argument. However, in my opinion that is the point of Kafka. There is no one answer. The Traveler is not in the penal colony to find truth, but to seek it, and he notably leaves empty handed. However, I think that to an extent, the Traveler’s dissatisfaction and opposition of the “process” might not even be in the cruelty, but instead the easy answers As far as “seeking answers” goes, neither the older ways or new ways seem to even be looking. A few good examples of this come when first, the Traveler comments on the wool uniforms in the sub-tropic heat, and on the incomprehensible designs. The Officer’s respective explanations that the uniforms remind them of “home” or that the script must be complicated enough to last the duration of the torture feel like flat reasons. Similarly, neither the New Commandant or the Condemned Man actively fight the old system. Changing the system will be difficult for the New Commandment, but necessary. It will call not just for less harshness, but a re-evaluation of the principles.

In the end, it is no about whether what you believe is right, but that a person find something to believe.

Posted in Uncategorized | 49 Comments

Synthetic Essay

There is a reason why the idea of an eighty-year-old man marrying a twenty year old makes our heads turn and can even make headline news. There are certain connotations and subtleties to the situation that we just cannot as a society ignore. The main reason is referenced whenever someone inevitably makes the comment, “he’s old enough to be her father.” This observation goes further than just the uncomfortable thought of the man’s child some years earlier playing with his future wife in the sandbox. It actually taps into the unspoken fear that everyone thinks but no one wants to admit to thinking: “what if she really is his daughter?” This can be traced all the way back to the influence of ancient Greece on western civilization and how the story of Oedipus has made its way into our collective subconscious. Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest and Max Frisch’s Homo Faber are two examples of novels in which this fear of an Oedipal situation is addressed.

In Effi Briest this fear is only hinted at and is not necessarily even a major theme of the novel. It is however impossible to ignore it, particularly at the beginning of the novel when the reader is first given an explanation of the situation between Effi, Innstetten, and Effi’s mother. As soon as it is made clear that Innstetten was once romantically involved with Effi’s mother and that their relationship was around the time of Effi’s birth the immediate reaction is to wonder if whether Innstettan is about to marry his own daughter. This however is never addressed further in the novel and is presumably only there to reference the difference in the two’s maturity level. In Homo Faber on the other hand it is one of the major plot points of the novel. In this book we actually find out that Sabeth is in fact the protagonist’s daughter and the fear of somehow falling into this Oedipal scenario is actually realized.

Even though the latter situation turns out to be worse than the former, both force us to go back to the source and consider what it is about Oedipus that really makes so uncomfortable. It is not something that necessarily defies nature. Objectively speaking if a male and a female decide to try and procreate, what does their previous relationship to each other really matter as long as they are keeping the species alive? I believe that in order to understand our distaste for such a scenario we have to go back to the original story in Oedipus. In the play, Oedipus has to struggle with whether or not he is responsible for his actions because of the fact that these things have been fated to happen.  That is a universal problem that we all have to face. Everyone wonders how much of their life and their little world is under their control and how much is controlled by the universe, God, fate or whatever you want to call it. When one sees a couple in which one partner is old enough to be the parent of the other partner, then subconsciously one is facing his or her own fears about fate.

Posted in Uncategorized | 51 Comments

Rebecca Moss

I tried to write about Haller’s self discovery by narrowing down to specifics on his relationship to his personalities, and going back out to his broader future prospects.

Synthetic: Steppenwolf

            Harry Haller, the main character in Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, goes through a unique period of self-discovery. This takes place over a brief period of time, but encompasses the concept of learning and moving forward in life in a very unique way. Though it is unclear whether Haller’s manuscript is meant to be taken literally or as a piece of literature in itself, his views on how to adapt to the world around him are very peculiar. Haller is like an insular speck of a man, engrossed with the loathing of technology and other’s interpretations of his beloved Goethe. As he becomes more involved with Hermine, his interests and experiences cause him to swell with an overwhelming amount of worldly pleasures. It is very different living as a functioning and adapting member of society, and Haller says of Hermine, “scarcely was her last word spoken before a layer of unreality and ineffectuality settled over the whole scene” (Hesse p.111). Influenced by Hesse’s attraction to Eastern thought, the novel portrays Haller as a man who is coming to grips with all aspects of himself. These are not limited to just the wolf of the Steppes and the man, but also Hermine.

To take the most out of Steppenwolf as possible, it is interesting to read it as if Haller’s manuscript is a dramatized recounting of Haller becoming one with the world and dying to his lonesome, suicidal self. Hermine is just another part of Haller. The first clue of this is when Harry correctly guesses her name. She gave no sign that she wasn’t just going along with his whimsy, allowing him to project his friend “Herman” onto her. The eastern spirituality of both “Herman” Hesse and Haller, along with their matching initials, gives insight into the character reflecting the author, and thus the Hermine/ Herman/ Harry triangle of sameness can be formed. When Hermine instructs Harry, “you will carry out my command and- kill me” (p. 110), it is as if the suicide Harry was counting down to is really what will be fulfilled.

Though the novel clearly ends with Haller alive and ready to take on his life, mistakes in his past and the tools to move forward in his pocket, killing Hermine was like killing his old self. The “Marvelous taming of the Steppenwolf” (p. 194) described a sort of ying yang with two of Haller’s strongest perceived personalities alternating with their power over each other in the Magic Theater. Haller, hours before, had finally fallen in love with Hermine, and in another chamber, “How One Kills for Love” (203), Harry takes out-of-body experience so seriously that he kills her. Pablo, as Mozart, soon tells Haller that he took the Theater too seriously. This is like how Haller took his life so seriously that he forgot to love himself, counting down the days until his suicide. He didn’t love his life enough to genuinely fight against his instincts and build healthy friendships; little things like household decorations set him off. After he killed Hermine, who represented the version of himself explained in the treatise, he literally closed a chapter of his life. Though readers are left in the dark as to what happens to Haller the writer, his abandoned manuscript tells us that his struggles were left behind as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1,846 Comments

Synthetic Essay

Here is my attempt at a synthetic essay. I know it is too long, but I hope I did it right.

Joanna Robinson

Apollonian and Dionysian Duality and the Concept of Self

                Sometime during the eighties, or the sixties, or perhaps some other time, it became fashionable to have what is commonly referred to as an “identity crisis.” Perhaps even more pervasive in popular culture is the mid-life crisis. The idea of finding one’s self, the essence of one’s own true nature, a theme seen in both canonical and popular literature over and over again, rests however on the cultural assumption that each person has innate characteristics that define an unchanging, cohesive self.  It is frequently this assumption, rather than any intrinsic quality of a character, that cause internal conflict in a story.  Nietzsche’s late nineteenth century work, The Birth of Tragedy revolves around the idea that artistic expression requires what he calls a duality of Apollonian and Dionysian characteristics.  Apollo, the god of the sun, dreams, and reason, represents the ‘civilized’ side of man, while Dionysius, the god of wine and ecstasy, is the untamed chaos of the universe.  Nietzsche believed that these ideas arose from “deepest necessity” (Nietzsche, 17), therefore revealing themselves to be characteristics of human nature that are reflected in art. In this interpretation of Greek tragedies, the hero’s attempt to make Apollonian sense of a Dionysian world ultimately brings about his own destruction.

Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, Death in Venice, is the very embodiment of Nietzsche’s ideas about art and the nature of the artist. The protagonist of the story, Gustav Aschenbach, “or von Aschenbach as he had been known since his fiftieth birthday” (Mann, 139), is a highly esteemed writer from Munich, who is essentially everything a writer in his society should be.  He hails from the bourgeois, the son of a ranking district court official, who comes from a long line of court officials, military officers, and bureaucratic workers (145).  We are told that Aschenbach has always been a man of moderation, “never even [having] been tempted to leave Europe” (142). An encounter with a strange, exotic-looking man, embodying the Dionysian, plants in his head the idea of travel, and it is this idea that leads him to Venice, a city which itself embodies the Apollonian/Dionysian duality described by Nietzsche with its beautiful architecture surrounded by the untamed chaos of the ocean. It is here that the latent, passionate, Dionysian impulses in Aschenbach are awakened by a beautiful young Polish boy named Tadzio. Aschenbach is in awe of his beauty and falls into an unhealthy obsession with him.  While he never even speaks to the boy, his obsession leads him to remain in Venice even when a cholera epidemic breaks out, which is presumably what claims his life at the end of the story.  It is not that Aschenbach has completely lost his sense of reason. In matters not concerning the boy Tadzio, he continues to act in a rational manner.  There is evidence in the story however, that Aschenbach believes himself to have a dual nature.  It certainly is present in the heroes of his fiction: “the sort of elegant self-control that kept its inner decrepitude and biological decay hidden from the eyes of the world until the last possible moment” (148). If this is the case, then it was Aschenbach’s beliefs about his self, rather than any inherent quality he possessed, that led to his own demise.

In as far as human psychology is concerned, Nietzsche’s work represents human beings’ innate tendency towards binary classification: good/evil, black/white, Apollonian/Dionysian, etc. This is a human universal. The flaw in Nietzsche’s work however, arises when it takes what is culturally true and assumes it as a human universal.  Anthropology recognizes that much of modern psychology is based on the experience of primarily white, middle class subjects from Europe and especially the United States.  The emergence of the self occurs in a social context. This means that western ideas about individuality and the self do not necessarily reflect anything inherent in the human psyche, but are rather a result of the culture from which an individual stems. Furthermore, the self is not a unified and bounded whole, as our individualistic culture often assumes, but rather it is compiled from external sources. This simply means that the way you present yourself to a professor is not the same way you present yourself to your friends. Although this much seems obvious, in many western cultures, there remains the pervasive belief that you have one true “self,” and any deviation from this self is seen as artificial. Therefore, the concept of the “individual” as it applies in western cultures does not reflect a reality, but rather a cultural perception of reality, which ties into both our religion and economy. So while Aschenbach may perceive himself as a veneer of civilization covering the underlying Dionysian chaos, this is only an idea he has been enculturated to believe.  In many Eastern traditions that have a belief in reincarnation, the soul is believed to inhabit many thousands of beings. In Samoan culture, babies are not spoken to from an ego-centric perspective as American parents often do, because Samoans do not speculate about the internal states of others. This leads to a very different, more collective concept of the self.

Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf thoroughly explores this complex concept of self through the lens of our protagonist Harry Haller. The story is told as a manuscript, written by Haller, that is discovered by the nephew of the woman whose house Harry used to board at. Many of the events in the story are highly unlikely, or even impossible, but Hesse seems to purposely make the story unbelievable so as to reveal truths about the the nature of the human soul and its capacity for healing. Haller has created for himself an identity he calls the Steppenwolf: one-half human, one-half a wolf of the Steppes. These two halves of himself he believes to be in constant conflict, causing him a great deal of internal anguish and he considers death to be the ultimate release from suffering. These two identities as described by Haller correspond closely to the Apollonian and Dionysian as described by Nietzsche. Early in the novel, as Harry is on one of his usual nighttime walks, he notices a sign he has never seen before, advertising a “MAGIC THEATER” that is “NOT FOR EVERYONE. ” When he inquires about the theater to a man at the door he is told once again that it is not for everyone, but he hands Harry a book entitled Treatise on the Steppenwolf. He reads it and is amazed to discover that it is about him and describes his situation exactly. The book reiterates Harry’s own ideas about himself, possessing both the nature of a human being and the “unsublimated raw nature” of the Steppenwolf (Hesse, 57).  It then however refutes this idea, saying that to “to explain as complex a man as Harry by the artless division into wolf and man is a hopelessly childish attempt,” and that “Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not two.” Hesse himself was a student of Chinese and Indian religion and philosophy,  and this idea seems to be more in line with Eastern philosophies. Although Harry does not immediately accept either of these versions of himself as the absolute truth, over the course of the story, especially once he meets Hermine, he begins to lean increasingly towards the latter view of himself.  In the magic theater, Harry faces both of these views of himself, struggling against one another. At the end of the story, when Harry stabs Hermine, he learns that he is guilty of taking himself too seriously. As in the case of Aschenbach, it was ultimately Harry’s ideas about himself, rather than any primal driving force, that led to the possible destruction of Hermine.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5,892 Comments

Ophelia to Hamlet; a tale of indecision to madness

“When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide; 
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: 
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; 
As one incapable of her own distress, 
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, 
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.” – Hamlet, Act IV, scene vii

In this speech from Hamlet, Gertrude is speaking about Ophelia, who has just been discovered tragically drowned. Ophelia must be one of the most misunderstood characters of all time. She must choose between obedience to her father and her love for Hamlet and goes mad in the end after Hamlet scorns her.  Fräulein Else is a very similar character. In her story, Else has to choose between saving her father and saving her virtue. When her mother asks Else to get money from Herr von Dorsday to save her father, Else believes that her father is the one who put her mother up to it, because Else knows how manipulative her father can be. This is extremely similar to Ophelia’s situation where Ophelia’s father asks her specifically not to see the man she loves. Ophelia and Else are both conflicted between being obedient to their fathers and doing what they themselves want. Both girls are caught in a time period where it is absolutely necessary to obey their fathers’ every command at the risk of losing their place in society.

Neither Ophelia nor Else has any control over her own body. Ophelia’s brother, father, and Hamlet all tell her what to do; Else’s father asks her to give her body away, and Herr von Dorsday demands it. Ophelia is ordered around by everyone and so is Else. Else’s aunt doesn’t want Else to marry Paul and must obey her. Ophelia and Else are both characters who are not taken seriously by others. Paul says “Let her be, madam. She’s in one of her moods today.” (p. 191)

Ophelia is defined by her sexuality. In Act 1 of Hamlet, Laertes warns Ophelia of the dangers of premarital sex for women. He tells her that she should fear intimacy with Hamlet. Society has taught Else to fear intimacy with men. She’s ashamed of the thoughts she has about her own body, yet she still has them: “I’m lying naked on the marble” (p. 192).

Who could blame either Ophelia or Else for going mad at the end of the drama? Both young girls are faced with incomprehensible decisions that seem impossible to resolve. Ophelia seems to have a specific point where she could no longer deal with the stress of the situation, whereas Else’s decision to commit suicide is more gradual; in this way she is more like Hamlet than Ophelia. Else is so caught up in indecision and all the options of the situation that she doesn’t know what to do and goes insane from the decision. Similarly, Hamlet doesn’t know whether to avenge his father, spare his mother’s husband, see his uncle punished, or to simply kill himself. They are both put in stressful situations where their father’s honor is at stake, and indecision is their inevitable tragic flaw.

Hamlet and Else are both insane by the end of the drama. But are they really insane? Hamlet seems to pretend to be crazy to try to gain the upper hand. Else uses insanity to avoid making a decision. She cannot choose which path to take so she makes a new one. She decides to show herself to everyone. In this way she does not decide between two choices but creates a third choice, a choice that might be considered insane.

Else and Hamlet also feel the same about love. Else claims that she is a sensual person but doesn’t think that she’ll ever be in love. “I’m not in love. Not with anyone. And I’ve never been in love” (p. 194). Hamlet at first claims that he loves Ophelia “Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.” (scene ii). He then later relinquishes his feelings and tells Ophelia to get to a nunnery. It is only at her graveside that he truly admits his feelings.

Else and Hamlet also both contemplate suicide. They see suicide as a peaceful option of the decision they have to make. Hamlet considers suicide during his famous “To be or not to be” speech. He could kill his uncle or kill himself. Else contemplates suicide after realizing she would be unhappy with any decision she could make. Both Hamlet and Else are characters who have too much asked of them and cannot face the world of conflict and decision.


“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

Posted in Uncategorized | 1,496 Comments

Dialectical Essay

Rebecca Benning

A Comparison of Perspectives on “In the Penal Colony”

Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” is a complex tale of punishment and justice. Set in a penal colony, it details the events of one day as observed through the eyes of an explorer. Arguments can be made both that the short story is a literal tale of crime and punishment in a colony and that the story is an allegorical work about existential justice.

“In the Penal Colony” can be read from a literal standpoint due to its historical context. The short story is set in a penal colony and explores the use of justice. It does not have to be extrapolated in order to provide a clear message. The justice system is clearly laid out and allows the reader to form his own critiques of a system where the officer acts as judge, jury, and executioner, and guilt is “always beyond doubt” (57). The events are sequential and though they seem somewhat absurd, they are not beyond the scope of reality. An execution machine could theoretically exist, and it is possible that a man would go mad and condemn himself. A literal reading of “In the Penal Colony” provides ample material for critique.

The allegorical interpretation of “In the Penal Colony” is based primarily on the ambiguity of the characters, the justice system, and a religious reading of the text. The text is characteristic of an allegory in that the characters do not have specific names. There is an explorer, officer, soldier, and condemned man but they are never identified as specific people, as is characteristic of allegories. Additionally, the justice system used on the penal colony has many absurd components. The machine is grotesque and cruel and the officer uses it at his own discretion. Finally, the text can be read from an allegorical viewpoint because many of the symbols can be interpreted from a religious perspective. Through the machine, the condemned man is supposed to pay for his transgressions and reach a point of self-awareness by “decipher[ing] his wounds,” (61) much like one would atone for sins. These elements indicate a religious allegory of repentance and penance.

The most conclusive reading of “In the Penal Colony” combines both the literal and allegorical components. The strongest literary works can be read on multiple levels, and this is true of “In the Penal Colony.” From a literal standpoint, the story critiques the justice system and the colonial system. It raises the question of the worth of a man and what constitutes a fair trial. From an allegorical standpoint, the story presents an allusion to the religious experience of penance. These points are not mutually exclusive; the story can be seen as both a literal and allegorical critique on justice as a whole. By combining both perspectives, the reader gains a greater insight.

“In the Penal Colony” is a fascinating tale of a perverse justice system. By examining it on both a literal and allegorical level, one gains a greater understanding of the challenges facing a justice system that attempts to mete out a fair punishment. Kafka appears to critique both the established justice systems and the religious concept of atoning for sins. Kafka uses a multi-layered approach that encompasses both literal and allegorical components to fully express his themes of justice.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5,739 Comments


Helplessness in Kafka’s The Trial and “In the Penal Colony”

            “The Traveller wanted to reach in to stop the whole thing, if possible. This was not the torture the Officer wished to attain; it was murder, pure and simple.”  These words describe the final moments of the Officer in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”.  These words are indicative of the helplessness that pervades the works, and indeed mindset of Franz Kafka.  Works such as The Trial and “In the Penal Colony” provide a glimpse into a topic which obviously affected Kafka to a great deal.

“In the Penal Colony” is a prime example of the helplessness that Kafka often illustrates.  The Traveller is brought to an island in order to observe the execution of the Condemned.  Everything about the setting speaks to suggest that the Traveller is in a powerless situation.  He is situated in a barren valley which lies on a secluded island in the middle of the ocean.  The landscape is certainly unforgiving and foreign to the Traveller.  Furthermore the majority of the story is purely the Officer explaining a method of torture and execution to the Traveller, one which the Traveller finds increasingly repulsive.  Nonetheless he is beseeched to stay and observe the execution.  Finally when the Officer straps himself into the now malfunctioning machine, the Traveller is unable to stop the contraption’s murderous rampage.  Even when the Traveller implores the Officer and Condemned to help him pull the Officer to safety he is unable to communicate, since they both speak an unknown language.  All of these instances provide an overall powerless, disturbing, and at some points chaotic environment for our protagonist to occupy.

These feelings of helplessness pervade Kafka’s work, and can be attributed to the difficulties that Kafka found he was unable to escape from in his own life.  In 1917 Kafka was diagnosed with Tuberculosis.  The disease often left him bedridden, and Kafka had to rely on his family to take care of him despite his fears of being viewed as repulsive.  “In the Penal Colony” was published in October of 1919, and The Trial was published posthumously.  Both of these works were likely written during a time in which Kafka perceived himself to be feeble and defenseless.   Kafka’s own feelings leaked into his works and provide us with a glance of how Kafka himself may have been feeling at the time of their creation.

The Trial provides a prime example of Kafka’s expression of helplessness through his works.  The story within itself paints the picture of a man who can do nothing to aid his current situation.  The novel portrays K. as he attempts to live his life as normally as possible while being convicted for an unknown crime.  K.’s only hope appears to be a lawyer who says he will attempt to deal with the court officials.  However, when K. consults with a local client, he becomes demoralized as he learns that the client has become effectively dependant on the lawyer, with nothing concrete to show for it.  The story demonstrates the life of a man who can do nothing but wallow in paranoia and vulnerability.

The final words which K. speaks in The Trial are his outcry of “Like a dog!” just as he is killed by two men without so much as a real explanation.  This scene exemplifies the helpless nature of the entire novel, as well as many of Kafka’s works.  Within The Trial K. is put down as if he were an animal, and it is unlikely that anything which he did could have prevented that outcome.  Likewise in “In the Penal Colony”, the Traveller finds himself helpless to do anything but watch as the Officer is destroyed by the terrifying machine.  Both of these protagonists display the helplessness that Kafka felt in the circumstances of his own life, and can be used as a glimpse into the emotions of this seemingly enigmatic author.

Posted in Uncategorized | 50 Comments

The Unconscious– Lily Daly

Lily Daly– Herman Hesse involved himself with Jungian philosophy and psychoanalysis in 1916. His interest in psychoanalysis arose from curiosity and a need to understand himself: he wanted self-realization, and he hoped for an ensuing reconcilement and ability to write and create. With the start of the war, he had begun to work for an organization that sent literature to German soldiers abroad in France and America. His growing, severe depression derived not only from disgust over the war, society’s militarism and the strain he put on himself working for the organization, but also from several upheavals within his home life: his father had died, his young son was sick, and his marriage was disintegrating. In Lucerne at a private clinic, Hesse began psychoanalysis with a student of Jung’s (Sobel). Intrigued by the idea of the underlying, repressed unconscious, he worked to create a more aware, intimate relationship with this colossal, shaping part of his being. A work most noticeably influenced by his knowledge of psychoanalysis is Demian (1917). He wrote one essay that directly discussed the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature, entitled Künstler und Psychoanalyse. With psychoanalysis, Hesse believed, a writer struggling with his worth as a man and as an artist can vitalize himself and find inner-value; this is achieved by facing and understanding what suppression the unconscious contains and ultimately accepting its contents as part of the person’s self. Becoming aware of and accepting his unconscious–the boundless source of creativity and originality when not plagued by the conscious’s unwanted thoughts and desires– the writer can renew his confidence in himself and his abilities (Mileck). Psychoanalysis did not “cure” Hesse; however, he had hope that Jung’s ideas had truth within them and were worthy guidelines to harmonizing the self.

In Jungian philosophy, dissonance in man arises from his consciousness. Aware of its existence, consciousness strives to distinguish and form itself, to develop a personality. The conscious’ continual pursuit of realization, according to Carl Jung, creates a separation from the naturally balanced, neutral unconscious. What results over time is an unconscious grown heavy with festering energy, with the thoughts, fears and desires that the conscious finds disgusting and wants to hide. The tense relationship between the conscious and unconscious unravels the man, distorting his sense of self and alienating him from who he truly is. Jung believed that the source from which humans connect with God is the unconscious. Thus, an alienation with one’s unconscious also means an alienation from God or from the opportunities of experiencing God.

Alienation from the self, society, and God is a prevalent theme in Hesse’s most autobiographical novel, Steppenwolf. Hesse began Steppenwolf in 1925, and the novel was published in 1927. Before Hermine enters into his life, Harry Haller finds himself stuck, aware of his unconscious but sickened by it. He is a mixture of contradictions: disgusted by society’s mediocrity, ignorance, stagnant everyday lifestyle, and reliance on technology, he is unable to pull himself away and let himself belong and revel solely in the spiritual aspect of life; unfulfilled by a life of intellectual pursuit and abstract thought, he shies away from and is sickened by a life of personal connections, impulse, unrestrained behavior and daring. As he goes from one extreme to another trying to understand and define himself– from being the man to the myriad sides of the wolf and back to the man, dipping in and out of his unconscious– he traverses a mental vacuum of emptiness and loneliness, deeply hating himself and the world he inhabits. When he acts on his more sensual, wolfish desires, he feels dirty and impulsive, further alienating and repressing his unconscious. Despite so much inward searching and thinking, he cannot locate himself. He fences himself in with the idea that the wolf part of him is disgusting and flat. Aware of this wolf side, he disregards its complexity and worth, lumping so much beauty and capability under an animalistic, connotatively foul name. He ruins his ability to understand all of his being: ” {…} I had painted a picture of myself as a person who was in fact nothing more than a most refined and educated specialist in poetry, music {…} and as such I had lived, leaving all the rest of me to be a chaos of potentialities, instincts and impulses which I found an encumbrance and gave the label of Steppenwolf” (Hesse). By acknowledging the intricate chaos and disorder within himself, by digging deeper within the blanket-term wolf and seeing that in the foul there is beauty and potential and not solely hindrances, he begins to accept and appreciate himself. Hermine, like a doctor of psychoanalysis, like a “mirror” held up to his being, helps Haller to see himself: “The Steppenwolf treatise, and Hermine too, were right in their doctrine of the thousand souls” (Hesse). This realization is no means permanent: it takes continual meetings with Hermine to keep him from turning against his unconscious. Like the weekly meetings with a doctor, Haller’s meetings with Hermine keep him from giving into his cravings for his old way of thinking and living: “Had Hermine let me for one week alone I should have fled at once…” (Hesse).

“Modern man,” Jung says, “is sorely enough beset by his own bad conscience, and wants rather to know how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature – how he is to love the enemy in his own heart and call the wolf his brother” (Tormod Kinnes). To accept and to love himself– to accept the unconscious, the wolf– is the only hope for peace within a splintered man. Before Hermine, Haller found the wolf within him– his unconscious–to be an “encumbrance,” to be an entire half of unified sickness, rather than something vital and balanced but distorted by being misunderstood and hated. A beaten down unconscious sabotages a man’s way to self-acceptance and ultimately, in Jungian philosophy, to God and eternity. At his core, and explicitly stated in the treatise, Haller and the Steppenwolves recognize a separation from home, from the “primal mother” which, according to Jung, is the “original state of unconsciousness.” Man, the Steppenwolf treatise says, “is nothing else than the narrow and perilous bridge between nature and spirit. His innermost destiny drives him on to the spirit and to God. His innermost longing draws him back to nature, the mother” (Hesse). As Haller is stuck between his hatred and his childlike love for society– for when he allows himself, coming from a good place within his wolf side, he, like a child, soaks in the happenings around him and feels ecstasy in being connected–Haller hangs between the idea of returning to where he came from and the idea of continual motion forward to the goal. His yearnings for the primal mother are, it seems, to be the yearnings of the unconscious suffocated underneath the burdens of life and the unconscious. Like a beaten child, the warped unconscious wants to go back home. Haller hangs between the solace of dissolution of the self in nature with the primal mother (like a child) and the solace of God and eternity that awaits at the end of a lived life. According to the treatise, if he commits suicide, this will only push him farther away into a more convoluted, distorted place; as he continues to live, experience, fail, and learn, he becomes closer and closer to the cold eternal. By unburdening the unconscious, the unconscious can help push him to eternity.

Jungian philosophy believes that to live a satisfying life a man must be aware of his unconscious and accept what he finds there: he must wade through the “bad” parts of the self that the conscious wants to bury and unburden the source of originality and health and balance. This unconscious is where God can be reached, where faith, affirmation and happiness can be experienced. A man should not go back, like a child, to the unconsciousness of nature: “The world comes into being when man discovers it. But he only discovers it when he sacrifices his containment in the primal mother, the original state of unconsciousness” (Tormad Kinnes). By striving toward freeing and understanding the unconscious, the unconscious will open up and lead him to eternity. A man can understand himself and with this understanding create a relationship with the world and ultimately God. Like Jung, like Harry Haller, Hesse himself did not know the way to ultimate peace, but he strove to always understand and accept himself, having faith in the Jungian philosophy.


Works Cited

Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. Trans. Joseph Mileck and Horst Frenz. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963.

Mileck, Joseph. Hermann Hesse: Life and Art. University of California Press, 1978. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

Sobel, J. “Herman Hesse.” The Herman Hesse Page. 2 May 1997. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

Tormod Kinnes, MPhil.  “Jung Thought to Consider.” 2009-2011. Web. 17 Apr 2012.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4,847 Comments

Fragmented – Amber Marks



Amber Marks


The brain is a wonderful thing, in that it can complete images and words without needing to see every detail. Those forwarded emails with the jumbled up words that people can read fluently is just one of the many proofs of the brain’s ability. Just because we have this ability to infer, however, does not mean that our inferences are always correct. Eyes can easily jump over spelling mistakes, sometimes several times, never realizing anything was wrong. In novels, however, it is harder to make the mind skip over so many instances. In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, there are many points in the novel that are never mentioned again, leading the reader to believe it might just be a blip in the mind. Many fragmental chapters that were a work in progress for Kafka, who never even wanted this novel published, are left out. These fragments contain quite a bit of information on the plotlines which are often mentioned but never further discussed, such as K.’s relationships with Elsa the waitress, Fräulein  Bürstner, and Leni.

The fragment chapters further develop K. as a person and also as a social being. He goes to visit his blind old mother, possibly in fear that once he was incarcerated he would never get to see her again. This fragmented chapter also shows K.’s dislike of pious behavior, which his mother exhibits. Another fragment shows K. getting a call to court one day at work, which he ignores to go see his girlfriend, Elsa, instead. K. asks if he will be punished for not showing up, he is told no, and he hangs up. From this tiny segment we learn that the trial is even further from our perceptions of trials today. Failing to appear in court leads to an arrest warrant in today’s legal system.

Despite these snippets learned from the fragments, which aren’t always included in the end of the novel, many would argue that the text available is the text from which readers interpret. Opposers say that Kafka’s original intent does not matter, since his original intent was to have nothing published posthumously at all. Therefore, the text that is published should be thought of as a complete work with a few plot holes as opposed to a larger piece of fiction.

In response to that opposition, though, I offer up this thought: One year. In the grand scheme of life, it is very insignificant. Many will live to see 60 or more years. Even compared to thirty years of life, one year is small. During that one year, however, from one birthday to the next, so much can and does happen. It’s odd, then, that Josef K.’s one year period between his thirtieth birthday and his thirty-first can all be explained in less than 150 pages. Each of the 10 chapters in The Trial center around roughly one day in Josef K.’s life, ten out of the 365 we know him.

If the prevalent question of what’s missing isn’t in conjuncture to the fragments, then surely it fits with the roughly 350 days in that terrible year of which the readers have no account.  How did he act on those days? Was K. paranoid every day or just the few the readers witnessed?

Kafka’s work is, perhaps intentionally, incomplete in that most of the details of K.’s self-trial are kept unwritten. Readers cannot judge the book on the skeleton that is available, because still much must be inferred.


Posted in Uncategorized | 51 Comments

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


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)

Posted in Uncategorized | 49 Comments