The Black Swan Summary
by Thomas Mann

Start Your Free Trial

The Black Swan Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Download The Black Swan Study Guide

Subscribe Now

During the 1920’s, Frau Rosalie von Tümmler is living in Düsseldorf with her unmarried daughter Anna and her teenage son Eduard. Widowed for more than a decade, Frau von Tümmler was the wife of a German lieutenant general who was killed in action in 1914. After his death, she retired to a small villa in Düsseldorf, partly because of the beautiful parks in which she could indulge her love for nature. She has many friends of her own age and older, and she believes her life quite happy. She has always been attractive to men, but as the time for her change of life nears, she and Anna are drawn closer to each other. Anna, who was always cut off from companions of her own age because of her clubfoot, is an abstract painter. Rosalie is often dismayed by her daughter’s canvases of mathematical or symbolic designs, but she tries to understand what Anna is trying to express. On their walks together, they have many long talks on nature and art. Sometimes Rosalie complains that nature is cheating her by taking away her function as a woman while her body remains youthful and her mind as active as ever. Anna tries to convince her that body and soul will soon be brought into harmony by psychological changes following physical ones.

Rosalie is fifty years old when she hires Ken Keaton, a young American, to give Eduard lessons in English. Keaton is a veteran who chooses to live in Europe after the war. Like most expatriates of his generation, he speaks of his own country as a place of shoddy materialism, a land that in its pursuit of money loses all respect for the art of living. His interest in Rhineland history brings him to Düsseldorf, where he supports himself by tutoring the wives and children of the well-to-do.

Keaton brings a new spirit of youthfulness and vitality into the Tümmler household. Rosalie often listens outside her son’s room to the snatches of conversation and the bursts of laughter she can hear from within; after a time, the young American is accepted as a friend of the family and soon thereafter Rosalie realizes that she is falling in love with the virile young man. Anna, watching what is happening, is greatly disturbed by this promise of her mother’s autumnal romance,...

(The entire section is 596 words.)