The Infant Prodigy

by Thomas Mann

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What does the girl with untidy hair think of Bibi in "The Infant Prodigy" by Thomas Mann?

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In Thomas Mann's short story, "The Infant Prodigy," the author describes the events of an hour-long recital by a young Greek boy named Bibi Saccellaphylaccas. At the end of the recital, as people are departing, a young girl exits the building with a young man.

As pointed out in the eNotes' "Masterplots II Series," this story reflects the cynicism of the prodigy and the audience. The prodigy has little regard for the members of his audiences, and "plays" them, knowing exactly how to manipulate their responses to his music, thinking them "idiots." In the audience there are a variety of responses, but the cynicism in this group is obvious as well. There is a critic who believes he can see through the child's performance, somehow attempting to make the talent of the boy less than it is simply because the critic perceives it as such—seemingly through the man's sense of his own inadequacies. The piano teacher is also cynical; she shares her opinions aloud with her companions:

Somewhere among her acquaintances the piano teacher stood making her critique. 'He is not very original,' she said audibly and looked about her.

However, as the attendants of the recital gather outside, the girl with the disheveled hair also thinks about the boy and his performance. She comments that all artists are infant prodigies. The girl's companion agrees with her.

A girl with untidy hair and swinging arms, accompanied by a gloomy-faced youth, came out just behind them. A child! she thought. A charming child. But in there he was an awe-inspiring... and aloud in a toneles voice she said: "We are all infant prodigies, we artists."

My sense is that the young girl looks at the "prodigy" first in terms of his environment. During the recital, she sees the boy as "awe-inspiring." Outside of the confines of the recital, perhaps when he greets the princess, he is simply a "charming boy."

But upon further contemplation, she may see, in reality, that without all the "hoopla," he is just a boy. In this light, during a moment of self-reflection, she perceives herself also as an artist—and therefore, also a "prodigy."

Popular opinion aside, if he is just a boy, as she is just a girl, then equally so they are both prodigies. She seems to be saying that it is only because of the crowd's willingness to accept him as a rare talent that he is treated so reverently. He is not necessarily more gifted than any other young artist, but popular opinion makes him so.

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