What are the major arguments against the common belief that Simplicissimus: Being the Description of the Life of a Strange Vagabond was written as an anti-war novel?   

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While it is certain that von Grimmelshausen wrote Simplicissimus with anti-war sentiments, it is clear that he stressed at least two significant pro- sentiments as well. It is clear that von Grimmelshausen uses the young Simplicissimus to illuminate the devastating sociological aspects of the Thirty Years War that so greatly altered German life. As is said by A. T. S. G (the editor or the translator of the first English version) in the Introduction, Simplicissimus is one of the few sociological records of that war:

It should be remembered as an apology for the stress now laid upon the sociological side of the history of the Thirty Years War, that that side has by historians been resolutely thrust into the background. ... the war crippled for two hundred years the finances, the agriculture, and the enterprise of the German people, and dealt a blow to their patriotism from the like of which few nations could have recovered. (Simplicissimus, Introduction, A. T. S. G)

In keeping with a sociological account (an account recording the effect of the war on society, including government administrators, agriculturalists, craftspeople, merchants, etc) of the Thirty Year War, von Grimmelshausen expresses pro-pastoral and pro-educational sentiments. Notwithstanding the pro- sentiments, it is important not to discount the anti-war sentiment clearly expressed (though to modern readers, the war account may not seem so horrible since modern readers have been exposed to worse as entertainment and in video game and as gruesome but unshielded news) because it is with the narrator's ironic, though intelligent, voice, in the persona of the uninstructed Simplicissimus, that von Grimmelshausen speaks his true opinion of war and of those conducting the war.

In a word, each had his own device to torture the peasants, and each peasant his several torture. (Simplicissimus, Book iv)

Though we know the true identity of the author now, he published the work under the pseudonym of "Samuel Greifnsohn vom Hirschfelt," and he did for reasons of protecting his safety while he expressed his true opinions on war and on what war had done to German society:

The reasons for anonymity were, no doubt, firstly, the fact that "Simplicissimus" at least dealt with the actions of men yet alive; and secondly, with regard to the other books, the continual references to details of the author's own life and opinions. (Simplicissimus, Introduction, A. T. S. G)

Von Grimmelshausen's pro-pastoralism sentiment is clearly expressed, indeed, comprises the undergirding of his argument about the sociological devastation brought by the war. pastoralism is the philosophy that all that belongs to the life of the shepherd and shepherdess is the epitome of goodness and purity; Poet Wordsworth developed this philosophy to its maximum level ushering in the Romantic period.

Von Grimmelshausen equates pastoral simplicity with the identity of the innocent Simplicissimus, who is not simple in terms of being a dunce, but in terms of being shielded from the horrors of the world at large, so much so that, until his instruction in shepherding, he had had no acquaintance with the commonplace wolf.

Then was I like to David (save that he in place of the bagpipe had but a harp), which was no bad beginning for me, but a good omen that in time, if I had any manner of luck, I should become a famous man .... (Simplicissimus, Book ii) 

Indeed, Simplicissimus' real father, a nobleman turned spiritual hermit (the same hermit Simplicissimus stays with for two years) chose to send to him to a pastoral, peaceful family in a remote and far out of the way home to protect his innocence and simplicity, even though his intentions backfire, leading to the pro-instruction (-education) sentiment. The song he sings in iii. expresses this pro-pastoralism sentiment as seen in this excerpt:

4. The emperor whom God doth give
Us to protect, thereby doth live:
So doth the soldier: though his trade
To thy great loss and harm be made.

5. Meat for our feasts thou dost provide:
Our wine by thee too is supplied:
Thy plough can force the earth to give
That bread whereby all men must live.

6. All waste the earth and desert were
Didst thou not ply thy calling there:
Sad day shall that for all be found
When peasants cease to till the ground.

Von Grimmelshausen's pro-instruction sentiment is expressed through Simplicissimus' own remarks. he often points out how completely void of any instruction he is:

none shall ever persuade me that any lad of my age in all Christendom could there beat me, for I knew nought of God or man, of Heaven or hell, of angel or devil, nor could discern between good and evil. So may it be easily understood that I, with such knowledge of theology, lived like our first parents in Paradise, which in their innocence knew nought of sickness or death or dying, and still less of the Resurrection. O noble life! (Simplicissimus, Book i)

After all his adventures are finished, after he has been and done just about everything there is to be and do and learned just about everything there is to learn--as evidenced by his eloquence and erudition in writing his own story and acting as his own narrator--Simplicissimus falls back on the instruction as the ultimate value.

Thenceforward we began to live somewhat more religiously than before; and in order to our reverencing and keeping of the Sabbath, I every day, in place of an almanack, cut a notch in a post and on Sundays a cross; and then would we sit together and talk of holy and godly things; (Simplicissimus, "Continuation" xxi)

Posted on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial