Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Shridaman, a merchant who is well versed in classical learning, twenty-one years old and of delicate build. His father, also a merchant in the village of Welfare of Cows in the land of Kosala, was of Brahman stock and very familiar with Vedic texts. Shridaman has all the attributes of a man of the mind. It is for this reason that he is attracted to his mental and physical opposite, Nanda. They are friends and inseparable. It is through Nanda that Shridaman is introduced to the pleasures of the flesh and the senses. It is also through him that he comes to know the identity of his future wife. By accident, he and Nanda witness Sita’s ritual ablutions near the temple of Kali. Shridaman falls in love with her. Because Nanda and Sita knew each other as children, Nanda is able to bring Sita and his friend together. It is Shridaman’s admiration for his friend’s physical strength and uncomplicated mind, as well as his love for Sita, that finally leads him to acknowledge Sita’s longing for Nanda by sacrificing himself in the temple of Kali, “the great mother.” With the same loyalty and devotion, he accepts his new existence as an amalgam of his former self and that of his friend. His honesty, fair-mindedness, and love for Sita ultimately lead him to agree to a murder-suicide pact that results in a triple funeral pyre. Through this, the conflict between the friend and the couple may be resolved and their child’s future happiness ensured.


Nanda, a shepherd and blacksmith who is eighteen years old. He is dark-skinned, with a big, flat nose and a strong, muscular body. His father is also a smith. Nanda has a “lucky calf lock” on his chest. Nanda is devoted to his friend Shridaman, whom he admires for his learning and slender, “elegant” physique. Nanda, although loyal to Shridaman and intent on avoiding any hint of an interest in Sita, Shridaman’s wife, is nevertheless secretly desirous of her, just as Sita is of him. After his unquestioning immolation before the corpse of his friend in Kali’s temple and his cheerful acceptance of a new physical identity, he also accepts willingly...

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The Transposed Heads The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The participants in this metaphysical work may be considered archetypal; in no sense does any of them possess those peculiarly individual qualities that require characterization in great detail. The characters are meant to represent the incarnation of much broader attributes. The dialogue, especially that between Shridaman and Nanda, also repeatedly reaches a rarefied philosophical plane where abstract values and categories are discussed in relation to observations and experiences.

In a sense, there is a sort of philosophical dualism that is exemplified in the qualities assigned to the two men, and the physical descriptions of each of them seem further to establish this relationship between character and appearance. Shridaman has the outward bearing of a scholar; his sharp nose and soft, gentle eyes are set above thin lips and a gentle spreading beard, and his head seems disproportionately large in relation to his body. The cogitation in which he is often immersed may at times have led him to underestimate the imperatives of his bodily urges; thus, his relations with Sita involve an abrupt awakening for him. Unlike the others, Shridaman is also prone to fits of melancholy. His tendency to elicit ultimate questions from the experiences of his life foreshadows the dark brooding that leads him first to suicide and then to a fatal duel with his opposite, Nanda.

Nanda is typified by other, simpler virtues, which are set off as well by the more obvious...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

The Transposed Heads Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Fleissner, Else M. “Stylistic Confusion in Thomas Mann’s Indian Legend, The Transposed Heads,” in The Germanic Review. XVIII, no. 3 (1943), pp. 209-212.

Ganeshan, Vridhagiri. “The Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann: An Indian Legend or a Metaphysical Jest?” in Journal of the School of Languages. V, nos. 1/2 (1977/1978), pp. 1-13.

Hollingdale, R.J. Thomas Mann: A Critical Study, 1971.

Lawson, Marjorie. “The Transposed Heads of Goethe and of Thomas Mann,” in Monatshefte. XXXIV, no. 2 (1942), pp. 87-92.

McWilliams, James R. Brother Artist: A Psychological Study of Thomas Mann’s Fiction, 1983.

“Form and Style in Thomas Mann’s Indian Legend,” in Linguistic and Literary Studies in Honor of Helmut A. Hatzfeld, 1964. Edited by Alessandro S. Crisafulli..

Schultz, Siegfried A."Hindu Mythology in Mann’s Indian Legend,” in Comparative Literature Studies. XIV, no. 2 (1962), pp. 129-142.

Willson, Amos Leslie. “Die vertauschten Kopfe: The Catalyst of Creation,” in Monatshefte. XLIX, no. 6 (1957), pp. 313-321.