The narrator, a student home for the weekend. The narrator is surrounded by derangement (the meaning of the original German title) and death both at school, where the students suffer fits of suicidal melancholy, and at home, where his mother died an early and inexplicable death some time before and his sister frequently attempts suicide. His life is one of almost total estrangement and solitude, again both at school, where he has severed all relations with colleagues so as to progress with his scientific studies, and at home, where there is little if any communication among the narrator, his father, and his sister. The narrator has written a long letter to his father about their problematic familial relations, and he hopes to be able to discuss this letter with his father while home; however, the father, who is a doctor, receives an emergency call. The narrator accompanies his father on his rounds and is exposed to a series of increasingly insane and diseased patients, culminating in the visit to Prince Saurau. The rounds provide a type of disquieting response to the narrator’s letter. His questioning of, and even attempt to halt, the natural process of disintegration and decay through science is proven useless. Alienation, solitude, and death are revealed to be universally human conditions that even the science of medicine cannot reverse. The objectivity and distance with which the narrator initially relates the day’s events eventually are replaced by involvement and perhaps even obsession as the narrator loses himself within the prince’s monologue and narrates page after page of his disjointed ramblings.
The doctor, the narrator’s father. Well known and dedicated, the doctor spends twenty-two-hour days seeing to the needs of his patients but heals not a single one of them. After years of working in an area marked by cases of insanity and brutality, the doctor has come to the conclusion “that everything is fundamentally sick and sad.” The early death of his wife has forced him to acknowledge death as a fact of nature. During his rounds, the doctor conveys little emotion and seems distanced from the misery around him. He lives in a solitude broken only by a weekly visit to a broker friend. His relationship to his children is weak and worsening. In particular, the doctor worries about his extremely withdrawn, fearful, and sensitive daughter. The fact that he does not worry about...
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