Themes and Characters
Otto, the main character of the story, is an innocent twelve-year-old when the most dramatic action of the novel occurs. The son of Baron and Baroness Conrad, Otto has grown up at a monastery, sheltered from the lawless, rough environment at his father's castle. Baron Conrad, a robber baron, plunders, steals, and wages war for a living. His gentle wife begs him to give up his thievery, but the Baron, who takes pride in his role as leader, warrior, and provider, refuses her request. When the Baron returns home from a rampage critically wounded, his wife swoons, goes into childbirth, and dies. Although the grief-stricken Baron honors his wife's last request and gives up robbing, he does not forgive his enemy, the Baron Frederick, who injured him, indirectly causing the death of Baroness Conrad. Baron Conrad later kills Baron Frederick, thus incurring the wrath of Baron Frederick's nephew, Baron Henry. Pyle complicates Baron Conrad's character, making him a thief and murderer who is nonetheless loved and respected by his wife, son, and compatriots. Arrogant and spiteful, the Baron is also sensitive and loving, and in the end, he bravely gives his life for the safety of his son and his men. The Baroness, meanwhile, never fully develops as a character, but does serve as a reminder of what the Baron has lost by continuing his ungodly ways.
Otto reflects his mother's gentle concern and serves as a warning voice calling out for the Baron's repentance. After his wife's death, the Baron takes the infant Otto to the Monastery of St. Michaelsburg so that Otto can grow up in a stable, safe environment. Otto, described as a small, pale, emotional boy, is happy at the monastery, where he occupies his time reading and dreaming with his dear friend, Brother John. Brother John, a simple, slow-witted man...
(The entire section is 735 words.)