The German title, translated more literally as “the confusions of the schoolboy Törless,” both situates the story in a school setting and introduces the novel’s main theme. The school is a military boarding school, similar to those of Musil’s own experience; however, rather than realistically described, the novel’s setting and atmosphere reflect the confusions of young Törless’s adolescent growing pains.
The surface plot focuses on a small group of four students. As money is stolen from Beineberg and other students, the student Reiting figures out that only Basini, one of their fellow students, could be the thief. Reiting and Beineberg take it upon themselves to punish Basini during secret and sadistic nighttime meetings. Törless is drawn into these meetings but tries to keep his distance. His dual attraction to and repulsion from the sadism, as well as homosexual acts in which Basini engages separately with his punishers, show Törless struggling with his confusions.
Over just a few weeks, Törless matures and learns to form his own opinion and stand up for it. As Reiting and Beineberg increase their mental torture by planning to expose Basini in front of the school, Törless convinces Basini to turn himself in to the headmaster. The school officials attempt to keep the ensuing scandal as small as possible; however, although Törless succeeds in obscuring the full extent of his involvement, he is implicated in the events and, at the close of the investigation, is told to leave the school—a decision that is...
(The entire section is 634 words.)