Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Wilhelm Meister is traveling on foot with his young son, Felix. As a consequence of his liberation from ordinary desire through the noble Lothario and the abbot, the once-troubled Wilhelm becomes a Renunciant. Under the terms of his pledge, he is to wander for years, never stopping in one place more than three days. His travels are intended to give him a final philosophical polish. Gone are the countinghouse and the stage; he is now undertaking a last purifying sacrifice.
While Felix plays merrily on the mountainside, Wilhelm muses beside a steep path. Hearing voices, he turns to see his son with a group of children running downhill before a donkey driven by a holy-looking man. The beast carries a sweet-faced woman with a small baby. The adults smile at Wilhelm, but the path is too steep for them to stop. When Wilhelm catches up with the party, the man invites him to visit his household, and his wife amiably seconds the invitation. It is decided that Felix should go on ahead with the family and Wilhelm will follow the next day, after he retrieves his wallet, left high on the mountain.
When he arrives, Wilhelm is charmed to find the family living in a restored chapel. He is struck by the fact that the man’s name is Joseph and his wife’s is Mary; they do indeed seem a holy family. When he learns their story, Wilhelm is reverent.
Joseph’s father was a rent collector for an absentee landlord. Joseph was promised that if he grew...
(The entire section is 1416 words.)
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