(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Schoolboy Tonio Kröger discovers that he deeply admires, indeed loves, his classmate Hans Hansen. The boys are physical and intellectual opposites. Hans is handsome in a Nordic way with steel-blue eyes, straw-colored hair, broad shoulders, and narrow hips, while Tonio has the dark-brown hair, dark eyes, and chiseled features of the south. Hans’s walk is strong and athletic, Tonio’s idle and uneven. It hurts Tonio that Hans responds to his obvious admiration with easygoing indifference. When Hans is late for their after-school walk and finally appears with other friends, Tonio almost cries, but when Hans recalls their agreed-on walk and says that it was good of Tonio to wait for him, everything in Tonio leaps for joy.

Though he is aware of the differences between himself and Hans, Tonio never tries to imitate his friend. He knows that Hans will never read the copy of Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (1787; Don Carlos, Infante of Spain, 1798) that he gives him, that even if he did, he would probably never recognize its dual themes of indestructible friendship and forbidden love. Tonio also realizes that he cannot develop Hans’s interest in riding. Tonio would prefer to read a book on horses and admire their strength and beauty rather than to be on horseback. Though Tonio recognizes that he is different, he is hurt when Hans calls him by his surname because “Tonio” sounds too “foreign.” Tonio likes the unusual combination, “Tonio Kröger.”

Tonio’s extraordinary sensitivity causes him to feel things more deeply than most boys. Indeed, his ability to recognize sham and ill-breeding, even in his teachers, results in school absenteeism and poor grades, which trouble and anger Consul Kröger, Tonio’s fastidious, tall, blue-eyed father. Tonio’s beautiful, black-haired mother, Consuelo, seems to him blithely indifferent to his grades, and Tonio is glad about this, though he considers his father’s attitude somehow more respectable and dignified.

Tonio, now age sixteen, has suddenly become infatuated by blond Ingeborg Holm. Though he has known her all of his life, she suddenly seems to have acquired a special beauty. Tonio is aware that he feels the same ecstatic love for Inge that he felt for Hans several years earlier, and that this transformation has occurred during Herr Knaak’s private dancing class. The perceptive Tonio has considered Knaak’s effeminate and affected demonstrations and gestures those of “an unmentionable monkey”...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)

Tonio Kröger Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Tonio Kröger is one of Mann’s best stories and was the author’s favorite work, understandable inasmuch as many of the details of the story are autobiographical in nature. The protagonist is the scion of a very respectable upper-middle-class family. The father is a north German patrician, while the mother, Consuelo, is of southern European origin. This dichotomy is apparent not only in the unusual combination of names of the protagonist but also in the inability of Tonio to resolve the conflict between his artistic nature and the expectations of bourgeois society.

The quintessence of the bourgeois world is symbolized by Hans Hansen, Tonio’s best friend, and Ingeborg Holm, the object of Tonio’s unrequited love. Hans excels at everything that is expected of the son of a respectable family—school, sports, social activities—while Tonio’s accomplishments, other than those pertaining to his artistic ambitions, are lackluster and indifferent.

Tonio’s father dies, his mother marries an Italian musician, and Tonio leaves his northern German hometown to live in the south. While he is in southern Europe, his health declines, but his artistry increases. His first publications meet with critical and popular acclaim, and for the first time in his life he experiences the success that had so eluded him in the past.

Some time later, Tonio is living in Munich and runs into his friend, the painter Lisaveta Ivanovna. After a...

(The entire section is 513 words.)