The following entry presents criticism of Mann's novella Tonio Kruger (1903). See also Death in Venice Criticism.
Tonio Krdger is Mann's semi-autobiographical story of a disillusioned writer who rediscovers his love for humanity. Produced early in Mann's career, the novella introduces several themes that Mann subsequently explored in such novels as Buddenbrooks and Doctor Faustus, including the nature of artistic self-consciousness and the role of the artist in society. Tonio Kro'ger examines these issues through a series of dichotomies, one of which is symbolized in the protagonist's name: Tonio, reminiscent of his artistic, southern, and aesthetic background; Kriger, of his bourgeois, northern, and social side. The reconciliation of these two poles is achieved in the story through Tonio's lyrical and sometimes sentimental reflection on the past. In this respect, Tonio Krd'ger differs from Mann's subsequent writings, while on a technical level it shares with his later works an extensive use of leitmotif, a device using an almost musical repetition of phrase or event to portray character and theme.
Plot and Major Characters
Tonio Kröger consists of three narrative sections. The first is set in Tonio's hometown on the Baltic Sea, which, though unnamed, resembles Mann's native Lfibeck. This section includes two brief episodes from Tonio's childhood: the first, a walk through town with his friend Hans Hansen, and the second, a dancing class with Ingeborg Holm. Blue-eyed and blond-haired, Hans and Ingeborg are both objects of Tonio's youthful admiration and reminders of his isolation from the bourgeoisie, an estrangement that he analyzes in the central, reflective portion of the novella. In this middle section, Tonio, now a writer in his early thirties living in Munich, visits Lisabeta Ivanovna, a young painter. Their discussion of the artistic life and temperament ends in Tonio's decision to visit his ancestral homeland of Denmark in order to escape the sterility of his life in the south and to experience the ordinary joys that he had missed in his childhood. Of several incidents in Denmark, the most significant forms the final portion of the novella. In this final scene, which occurs several months after his arrival in the north, Tonio observes a couple dancing whom he imagines to be Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm. He does not approach them, however, and the story ends with Tonio composing a letter to Lisabeta, a confession to his fellow artist of his alienation surmounted at last by his love for humanity.
The thematic structure of Tonio Krdger relies largely on the struggle Tonio perceives between the life of the artist and that of the bourgeoisie. In the work, Mann explored the youthful disillusionment of Tonio by contrasting it with the happiness and blithe naïveté of Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm. Tonio, characterized by a sensitive, artistic temperament, feels estranged from the contentment that these two enjoy. Creating a dichotomy between art and life, as well as intellect and nature, Mann explored the ramifications of this separation and portrayed Tonio—the writer and artist—as the agent of reconciliation between these facets of existence. Isolated from others, Tonio also faces the danger of an escape into sterile aestheticism, which promotes art as a refuge from actual living. He avoids this, however, by going to Denmark to experience life again. While there, he reaffirms his faith in humanity and love for life.
Written in 1902, Tonio Krdger prefigures many of Mann's later works in terms of style and theme and serves as a structural model for the remainder of Mann's novels. It follows a modernist poetic in figuring the artist as excluded from ordinary society. It also contains many autobiographical elements common to Mann's writings on the nature of artistic self-consciousness and creation. The work differs, however, from his later novels in terms of its personal tone, which some have called excessively sentimental. Others see the work as his most lyrical, and Mann himself called the work a "prose ballad." Critics differ on this point but most acknowledge that the story has elicited a strong emotional response from readers. Detractors of the work note shallow characterization among its chief weaknesses, and some fault Mann's universalization of a particular type of artist, one isolated from society. Still, most critics have found in Tonio Kruger a compelling and well-wrought story of artistic discovery and consciousness.
SOURCE: "Tonio Krdger: An Interpretation," in Thomas Mann: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henry Hatfield, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964, pp. 22-34.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1944, Wilkinson analyses theme and technique in Tonio Kröger.]
Tonio Kruger occupies a central position in Thomas Mann's spiritual and artistic development. But a work of art must contain its own justification, and to appreciate the story there is no need to know anything of the author's physical or literary antecedents, nor to have read anything else he has written. Taken in and for itself, Tonio Kruger is many things—above all a tender study of youth, of its yearnings and sorrows and its soaring aspirations, of the incredible bitterness of its disillusion. Herein lies, perhaps, its widest appeal. But it is also the story of the growth of a man and artist into self-knowledge, while yet another major theme is an account of the process of artistic creation. Much of this process, its later stage of shaping and craftsmanship, lies outside our actual experience. Even these the poet may enable us to experience imaginatively, so that under his spell we embrace even the alien and unknown. But in one vital aspect of artistic creation, its early phase of "seeing" as distinct from "shaping," we share directly.
This, the aesthetic...
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SOURCE: "Narcissus," in Thomas Mann: An Introduction to His Fiction, Peter Owen Ltd., 1952, pp. 52-63.
[An American educator and critic, Hatfield is the author of numerous books on German literature and has served as editor of the Germanic Review. In the following excerpt, he discusses theme, structure, and style in Tonio Kröger.]
Tonlo Kroger is Mann's most lyrical story. As a direct apologia, it is warmer in tone than the earlier stories. Mann is closer to autobiography here than ever before, and sympathy with Tonio, and a pity approaching self-pity, are not restrained.
Tonio Kröger is a writer of great talents, though he finds production a slow, unrelenting torment. But it is primarily the basic condition of his existence from which he suffers: he is doubly isolated. He has escaped from the world of his paternal tradition, but he is no more at home among the Bohemians of Munich than he had been among the burghers, and the latter he had at least respected. Either to resolve his dilemma, or at least to find a means of making it bearable and fruitful, is the "problem" of Tonio's existence. He himself prefers to put it more grandiloquently, in terms of the eternal and irreconcilable conflict between "spirit" and "life."
In part, no doubt, Tonio is the victim of his own ideology. The "spirit" (including of course art and the intellect) is conceived...
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SOURCE: "The Coming of the Stranger God," in The Arrow and the Lyre: A Study of the Role of Love in the Works of Thomas Mann, Martinus Nijhoff, 1955, pp. 1-32.
[In the following excerpt, Hirschbach examines Mann's portrayal in Tonio Kröger of the role of the artist in society, particularly focusing on the protagonist's attempt to reconcile nature and the intellect.]
Tonio Kröger combines almost all the ideas and trends of the young Mann; it is typical in every respect for both his thinking and technique during the years preceding the First World War. In spite of the many attempts to stamp this story as merely autobiographical the hero is not just Thomas Mann but rather a type, a symbol for many like him, among whom Mann may have counted himself. At the same time he is an ideal to which Mann may have inspired. Nor is Tonio the only "type" of the story. Such figures as Hans Hansen, Ingeborg Holm, Magdalena Vermehren, or Lisaweta Iwanowna are of an intentionally shadowy quality, and to give them more distinct characteristics or a greater role in the story would have detracted from their chief function, that of being typical. There are other "types" that are described by Tonio in his talk with Lisaweta: Adalbert, the novelist; the lieutenant, an occasional poet; the actor off stage; the prince in a crowd. Finally the author employs the leitmotif here in a manner which stresses certain...
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SOURCE: "The Embarrassed Muse," in The Ironic German: A Study of Thomas Mann, Little, Brown and Company, 1958, pp. 68-115.
[Heller was a Bohemian-born English educator and critic who specialized in German literature. In the following excerpt, he examines theme and style in Tonio Kröger within the context of a discussion of the modern conception of the artist.]
Even before Buddenbrooks was accepted for publication Thomas Mann began Tonio Kröger. As early as 29 December 1900, in a letter to his brother Heinrich, he mentions his plan for the 'elegiac Novelle' which six weeks later (13 February 1901) is tentatively given the title 'Literature'; and he adds in brackets: 'Illae lacrimael' In the same letter he says: 'When spring comes, I shall have survived a winter full of inward excitement. This very unliterary and unsophisticated experience has proved one thing to me: there is still something left in me which is not mere irony, something which is straight-forward, warm, and good. No, not everything in me has been distorted, corroded, laid waste by cursed literature. Literature is death, and I shall never understand how one can be enslaved by it without hating it bitterly.' The experience to which he refers is 'not a love affair, at least not in the ordinary sense, but a friendship which is—incredible though it seems to me—understood, reciprocated, rewarded, and yet...
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SOURCE: "Thomas Mann's Tonio Kröger: A Critical Reconsideration," in Revue Des Langues Vivantes, Vol. 27, 1961, pp. 232-40.
[Furst is an Austrian-born American educator and critic who has written a number of studies on Romanticism. In the following essay, she suggests that reader sentiment has interfered with proper critical assessment of Tonio Kröger.]
'Von allem, was ich schrieb, meinem Herzen am nachsten': this is how Thomas Mann described Tonio Kröger nearly thirty years after its publication. He added too, that this Novelle was 'noch immer von jungen Leuten geliebt'. The words which Mann used to describe the reaction to Tonio KrIger, 'meinem Herzen am nilchsten' and 'geliebt', are highly significant, implying as they do not merely popularity, but a strong emotional response on the part of the reader, as well as an emotional involvement of the author. Another thirty years have now elapsed and today as yet the attraction of Tonio KrEger, particularly for the younger reader, is still as potent as ever. The nature of this attraction is not hard to analyse. Tonio Kröger is first and foremost a poignant tale of adolescence, of the acute problems confronting a sensitive youth as he grows up and learns to come to terms with himself and the world. Since these crises of self-knowledge, disillusionment and adjustment are common to us all, the reader instinctively...
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SOURCE: "Tonio Krdger, Death in Venice," in The German Tradition in Literature, 1871-1945, Cambridge at the University Press, 1965, pp. 137-45.
[Gray is an English educator and critic specializing in German literature. In the following excerpt, he maintains that Tonio Kröger dramatizes the artist's attempts to reconcile himself with society.]
The structure of Tonio Kröger divides cleanly into three movements, the argument proceeding almost as though it were a syllogism. First, Tonio's childhood isolation and yearning for acceptance by the 'Burger' is shown; then, as a young writer, he is seen discussing in Munich with his friend Lisaveta Ivanovna the relationships of the artist with society; lastly, he returns north to his home and makes the journey to Elsinore, where his reconciliation is realized. In the course of all this, a good deal of entertainment is provided: the teenagers' dancing-class, the orangehaired American boys who drink hot water, the Romantic vision of Tonio's former loves, his embarrassment in the public library are all vividly and sometimes amusingly drawn, in fact the whole story has a relaxed atmosphere which is certain to please. At the same time, however, it has the air of illustrating a point which can be stated in abstract terms. It attempts to be more than a series of vignettes and caricatures, and it is the total impression gained from it that must...
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SOURCE: "Conflict and Compromise: Tonio Kröger's Paradox," in Revue Des Langues Vivantes, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, 1966, pp. 376-83.
[In the following essay, McWilliams interprets Tonio Kröger's psychological motivations as an artist.]
Central to the interpretation of Thomas Mann's Tonio Kröger is the concept of the "lost bourgeois", or, as Tonio describes himself: "ein Burger, der sich in die Kunst verirrte, ein Bohemien mit Heimweh nach der guten Kinderstube, ein Kiinstler mit schlechtem Gewissen." Critics have taken Tonio's words at face value, disregarding to a great extent that he is primarily a character in a story rather than a spokesman of the author. Although Thomas Mann has called this story "mein Eigentliches", it is first and foremost a work of literature in which the hero speaks for himself. Tonio comes forth as a fallible human being, who, like all of us, utters words which do not always correspond with his innermost feelings. His ambiguous pronouncements and the extent to which he fails to back them up by deeds reveal a breach in his nature which demands careful investigation. Tonio uses words concerning his bourgeois origin obviously to protect himself against certain demands of life and to rationalize away his conflict with his art.
Tonio Krbger is little different from many of Thomas Mann's heroes who are burdened by a sense of guilt which inhibits them from total...
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SOURCE: "Casting Out Nines: Structure, Parody and Myth in Tonio Kroiger," in Revue Des Langues Vivantes, Vol. XLII, No. 2, 1976, pp. 126-46.
[In the following essay, Bennett explores the ways in which Tonio Kröger parodies several other works of German literature concerned with the role and development of the artist in society.]
One consequence of that leaning toward the autobiographical which Thomas Mann so frequently indulges, is that when he speaks of his own works he tends to concentrate more upon their spirit than upon their structure. The remarks about Tomio Krger in the Lebensabriss of 1930, however, form somewhat of an exception to this rule: "Die epische Prosakomposition war hier zum erstenmal als ein geistiges Themengewebe, als musikalischer Beziehungskomplex verstanden, wie es spliter, in grosserem Masstabe, beim 'Zauberberg' geschah." But although Mann's emphasis in this case has led one or two critics at least to glance at the structure of Tonio Kröger, it does not seem to me that...
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SOURCE: "Text and History: Tonio Kröger and the Politics of Four Decades," in Publications of the English Goethe Society, n.s., Vol. LVII, 1988, pp. 39-54.
[In the following essay, Reed examines Tonio Krioger within the political and cultural contexts of early twentieth-century Germany.]
No one who knew Ida Herz will have been surprised by her wish that we should 'spread the word and work of Thomas Mann'. From 1925 on, when she catalogued Thomas Mann's increasingly unmanageable library for him and became part of his entourage, he was the central experience of her life. Later, the value of his writings for her, and for many Germans like her, was intensified by the horrors of twentieth-century German history. As Nazism engulfed Germany and then Europe, Thomas Mann became for them a light in the darkness. His work was comfortingly sane: in a world of vicious distortion and brutal propaganda, it elaborated humane values with honesty and ironic moderation, and yet ultimately also with passionate commitment. His declared opposition to fascism, both before and after Hitler came to power, was a singlehanded rehabilitation of the conservative cultural background he came from, which had always tended to let political matters go by default. Besides its sanity, Mann's work was comfortingly monumental: the massive novels and the interlocking essays were a world in themselves, and a spiritual...
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SOURCE: "Some Thoughts on Tonio Krdger," in Antaeus, Nos. 73-4, Spring, 1994, pp. 199-223.
[Millhauser is an American novelist and critic. In the following essay, he examines the structure and major themes of Tonio Kröger.]
An immediately striking fact about Tonio Kröger (1903), Mann's second novella, is that it covers a large amount of time: some seventeen years. There is no law of fiction, no principle of imagination, that requires a short narrative to take place in a short span of time, but it remains true that the physical shortness of a story or novella invites concentrated effects. Mann's own practice in his four other major novellas is instructive. The action of Tristan (1903), his first novella, begins in January, reaches its climax in February, and ends in the spring. Death in Venice (1913) begins in the spring and ends in the summer; the past is briskly disposed of in the short second chapter, which serves as a summarizing flashback. Disorder and Early Sorrow (1926) takes place in one afternoon and evening. Mario and the Mgician (1930) begins with an introductory movement that covers several summer weeks and continues with the long narration of the events of a single evening. The lengthy temporal span of Tonio Xwger sets it radically apart from these other novellas and immediately raises the question of structure....
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Jonas, Klaus W. "Tonio Krdger (1903)." In Fifty Years of Mann Studies: A Bibliography of Criticism, pp. 131-32. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955.
Brief bibliography of essays on Tonio Kro'ger from the first half of the twentieth century.
Apter, T. E. "The Romantic Dilemma." In Thomas Mann: The Devil's Advocate, pp. 13-37. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1978.
Includes a discussion of the opposition between life and imagination as dramatized in Tonio Kro'ger.
Berendsohn, Walter E. "The World of Yesterday." In Thomas Mann: Artist and Partisan in Troubled Times, translated by George C. Buck, pp. 8-60. University: University of Alabama Press, 1973.
Draws biographical parallels between Tonio Kridger and Mann's life, and focuses on Mann's attempt within the story to highlight "the contrast between literary art and the naive life."
Brennan, Joseph Gerard. "The Artist's Isolation in a Bourgeois World." In Thomas Mann's World, pp. 3-36. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962.
Explores the theme of isolation in Tonio Krofger and other works by Mann.
Eddy, Beverley Driver. "Teaching Tonio Kröger as Literature about Literature." In Approaches to Teaching Mann's...
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