Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334
Rudolph, the narrator of the story, a scholar and musicologist who is obsessed with writing a monograph on composer Felix Mendelssohn. A neurotic and sickly man who is dependent on medication, he lives alone on his country estate in Peiskam. Rudolph is an extreme perfectionist and is highly vulnerable to the slightest distraction. Although he thinks constantly about his monograph, he never seems to get to writing it. He is interrupted occasionally by visits from his vivacious socialite sister. Her domineering personality causes him great difficulties and destroys his concentration. He travels to Palma, Mallorca, at the beginning of the novel when, after one of her visits, he cannot concentrate on his work. There, he remembers the tragic story of a young woman whom he met two years earlier, on a previous journey to the island. Her fate plunges him into a depressed state, and he contemplates death and the meaninglessness of his life.
Rudolph’s sister, an outgoing and vital woman who leads an active social life in the capital city of Vienna. A successful businesswoman who is involved in all the mundane activities of life, she is clearly the opposite of her sickly and isolated brother. She torments the narrator about his lack of success and his inability to write his treatise. Her visit at the beginning of the novel prompts him to travel to Mallorca.
Anna Härdtl, the young German woman whom the narrator meets on one of his trips to Mallorca. She is married and operates a small business with her husband in Munich. The business is not going well, and they decide to take their savings and take a vacation in Palma. One morning, she discovers that her husband has fallen (or thrown himself) from the balcony of their hotel room and is dead. The narrator befriends her, but he learns, after a brief trip away from Palma, that she has committed suicide. She is buried under a simple concrete slab.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 267
The narrator of Concrete is typical of the protagonists in Bernhard’s novels. He is highly neurotic and unable to come to terms with himself and his existence; his alienation is suggested by the way in which, in the novel’s opening sentence, he refers to himself as if he were another person: “From March to December, writes Rudolph, while I was having to take large quantities of prednisolone....” His preoccupation with intellectual work suggests his entrapment within the confines of his own mind. His constant hesitation and his inability to complete any of his projects also indicate his estranged consciousness. Other Bernhard characters, such as Konrad in Das Kalkwerk (1970; The Lime Works, 1973), are obsessed with intellectual or scientific treatises, which they are unable to complete. They are, because of their acute intellects, indecisive human beings who cannot take a final and effectual step into the real world. Too much thought inhibits action. They fear and despise the hypocrisy and superficiality of everyday reality.
The narrator’s mocking sister represents the society of individuals for whom taking action can be simple and unproblematic. A society woman, she is clearly the polar opposite of the intellectual narrator. Their relationship is a sick and sadistic one of mutual dependence. They hate each other, but one cannot do without the other.
Like the sister, the unfortunate woman, Anna Hardtl, is not a fully developed character but is seen only through the narrator’s reflections. Her sad fate represents the despair and futility of life that the narrator sees all around him. Her story illustrates a deeply pessimistic view of existence.
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