The Ride Across Lake Constance Characters

Peter Handke

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Emil Jannings

Emil Jannings, who is described only as quite fat, heavily made up, and wearing the hints of a costume. His closest relationship, which vacillates between friendliness and animosity for no apparent reason, is with Heinrich George. During the course of the play, Jannings learns and increasingly adopts the poses of the role of boss, in particular in his interactions with George. More than any other character, he epitomizes power and understands the mechanisms of instituting it: Individual desires must be subordinated to the laws of an order naturalized by means of repetition, ritual, and custom. In spite of the apparent ease with which Jannings plays his role, he nevertheless undergoes moments of uncertainty and confusion when events do not correspond to his imagined order, as for example in the final scene, when Alice Kessner does not, contrary to expectations, wear a watch.

Heinrich George

Heinrich George, the closest person to Jannings, described in a similar manner. Characterized above all by a somewhat childlike naïveté, George frequently does not comprehend the language of a particular system and accordingly experiences more difficulties than any other character in acting out his various parts. This means that at isolated moments George questions the established order and even contradicts it, although unwittingly, by expressing his own needs and desires. George’s difficulty in learning the rules of the game excludes him from ever holding the reins of power himself: He becomes subordinate to Jannings, and eventually his identity is reduced to that of servant.

Erich von Stroheim

Erich von Stroheim (fon SHTROH-him), an impressive figure who, like the other two male characters, wears the hints of a costume. As the master gamesman, von Stroheim plays a variety of parts, including those of magician,...

(The entire section is 787 words.)