Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Two of Mann’s themes are to be found in this story: the fate of the unhealthy artist and the destructive power of the femme fatale. The former theme is often found in his early fiction; the latter is not so prevalent. When Mann incorporates them into one tale such as “Little Herr Friedemann,” the result is a work of rather unsettling power. Few Mann stories from the 1890’s achieve the weight and dramatic thrust of this one.

As a typically doomed Mann male, Friedemann is one who is “marked out” from society by his deformity. Despite whatever derision he must endure because of his boy-man appearance, Friedemann has become part of the mainstream of Lubeck society: He is an entrepreneur; he leads a gainful, productive life; he is a member of a respected Lubeck family; and he is a rather visible member of the local artistic scene in that he plays the violin and is an avid patron of the arts.

Counterbalanced against all these achievements, however, is the fact that Friedemann has deliberately renounced the sensual life (love, passion, and sex). For Mann, that is unhealthy; in fact, it is for him a form of decadence in its own way. Thus, as an artist of sorts, Friedemann is considered by Mann to be typical of that class. That is, notwithstanding Friedemann’s relative bourgeois stability, he leads an unhealthy and by extension an unhappy life. His fate in the river, Mann suggests, is the culmination of such a life.

The other...

(The entire section is 414 words.)