Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Characterization leads directly to theme in Titan, for Jean Paul saw both as means to the same aesthetic end. In part, this fusion of theme and characterization results from his appropriation and oversimplification of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s theory of the absolute ego. As he rephrased these ideas, Jean Paul began to visualize existence as an arena in which voracious egos collided; unless some means of reconciling them evolved, he saw them as either inevitably destroying one another and themselves or withdrawing into the total isolation of the self.

Titan is an attempt to reveal the consequences of this fusion; the novel determines both the maturation of Albano and the fates of the other characters. Albano learns the necessity of curbing his passions before they threaten the freedom of others. Similarly, all the others suffer from their failures to learn and practice such restraints; even Schoppe, who understands the situation as well as anyone in the novel, finds himself finally overwhelmed by the recognition that no one else can share his suffering, that in the end he is alone. Only Idoine seems to escape this black hole of egoism, and she is the least individualized character in the novel.

At the conclusion, the novel itself seems to contradict this vision, for it presents little hope of individual escape from this welter of conflicting egos. Few survive the inevitable collisions. That Albano and Idoine do not collide similarly results from her apparent sacrifice of her personality in order to rescue and rehabilitate his. Further, although the other characters seem to exhibit profound differences in the beginning, by the end all have become projections of the same personality. Each is mired at the center of a self-directed and self-contained universe, with no chance of communicating with or entering anyone else’s. Thus Albano and Roquairol start out at opposite extremes: one a believer, the other an atheist; one an introvert, the other an extrovert; and one private, the other public. Yet in the end, neither seems capable of believing anything beyond what is created by the self. Albano reflects at the very conclusion that he is finally left alone with himself, just as everyone else is.