Study Guide

Kaspar

by Peter Handke

Kaspar Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Kaspar is a play about the tyranny of language and implicitly about the tyranny of society: It deals with the way in which society builds a human being. This is fairly easy with a child, since there the process is almost unnoticeable. In Kaspar’s case, in contrast, the protagonist not only has to be conditioned but first must be unconditioned. Kaspar’s one sentence indicates a previous existence, however mysterious, that was not molded by the environment into which he stumbles through the slit in the curtain, an obvious symbol of birth. He tries to establish a foothold (Kaspar initially walks only with difficulty), but has very limited resources at his command (his sentence may stand for inherited traits). These limited resources also constitute his greatest freedom: He can define the world and his position in it on his own terms, unfettered by social and linguistic conventions.

This freedom is immediately seen as a handicap by the Prompters (society), who pity him for his limited linguistic ability, which prevents him from communicating with them. In order to become a respected and respectable member of society, he must be weaned of his sentence and taught to order his world with an ever-increasing arsenal of words and sentences. His formerly unified and simple view of the world is complicated and fragmented: He is no longer Kaspar but only one of many Kaspars. He has traded individuality and freedom for security and respectability. As soon...

(The entire section is 494 words.)