Study Guide

Buddenbrooks

by Thomas Mann

Buddenbrooks Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the year 1875, the Buddenbrook family is flourishing. Johann maintains intact the business and wealth he has inherited from his father, and the Buddenbrook name is held in high esteem. Johann’s oldest son, Jean, inherits the business when old Johann dies. Antonie (Tony), Jean’s daughter who is born in the family home on Mengstrasse, has aristocratic tendencies by nature and by temperament. The next child is Tom, followed by Christian, who from birth seems somewhat peculiar. Tom displays an early interest in the Buddenbrook business, but Christian seems indifferent to all family responsibilities.

Tony grows into a beautiful woman. When Herr Grünlich, obviously interested in Tony, comes to call on the family, Jean investigates his financial status. The headstrong Tony despises Grünlich and his obsequious manner. Going to a nearby seaside resort on the Baltic Sea to avoid meeting him when he calls again, she falls in love with a young medical student named Morten. When they learn of this, Tony’s parents hurriedly bring her home. Tony, raised to feel a sense of her family duty, is unable to ignore their arguments in favor of Grünlich when he asks for her hand. Once the wedding date is set, Grünlich receives a promise of a dowry of eighty thousand marks. Grünlich takes his twenty-year-old bride to the country and refuses to allow her to call on any of her city friends. Although she complains about this in her letters to her parents, Tony resigns herself to obeying her husband’s wishes.

Tom holds an important position in the business, which continues to amass money for the Buddenbrook family. Christian’s early distaste for business and his ill health give him the privilege of going to South America. When Grünlich finds his establishment floundering, his creditors urge him to apply to his father-in-law for help. Only then does Jean discover Grünlich’s motive for marrying Tony: The Buddenbrook reputation placed Grünlich’s already failing credit on a sounder basis, but only temporarily so. Actually, Grünlich is hoping that Jean’s concern for Tony will help him avoid financial failure. Tony assures her father that she hates Grünlich but that she does not wish to endure the hardships that bankruptcy will entail. Jean brings Tony and his granddaughter, Erica Grünlich, back to the Buddenbrook home. The divorce, based on Grünlich’s fraudulent handling of Tony’s dowry, goes through easily.

Jean loves his family dearly and firmly believes in the greatness of the Buddenbrook heritage. Tony is once again happy in her father’s home, although she bears her sorrows so that everyone will notice. She grows quite close to her brother Tom and takes pride in his development and in the progress of the Buddenbrook firm.

Christian fails in his enterprises in South America and when he returns home his father gives him a job in the firm and an office, which Christian avoids as...

(The entire section is 1198 words.)