Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man

by Thomas Mann
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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566

Felix Krull realizes early on that he can control people and situations if he masters himself. This is a realization he has after he encounters an actor who entrances a whole room. He decides to learn to manipulate people and starts by working on himself. Thomas Mann writes,

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First, I took it into my head to study the human will and to practice on myself its mysterious, sometimes supernatural effects. It is a well-known fact that the muscles controlling the pupils of our eyes react involuntarily to the intensity of the light falling upon them. I decided to bring this reaction under voluntary control. I would stand in front of my mirror, concentrating all my powers in a command to my pupils to contract or expand, banishing every other thought from my mind.

This comes in handy for him because he wants to see the world and live beyond the place where he grew up. When his father's business fails and his father kills himself, he goes out into the world. His fears of not doing or being something or someone in life lead him to take risks and lie to people to get what he wants. He thinks,

There was another interior activity that often occupied me at that time and that even today has not lost its charm for me. I would ask myself: which is better, to see the world small or to see it big? The significance of the question was this: great men, I thought, field marshals, statesmen, empire-builders, and other leads who rise through violence above the masses of mankind must be so constituted as to see the world small, like a chessboard, or they would never possess the ruthless coldness to deal so boldly and cavalierly with the weal and woe of the individual. Yet it was quite possible, on the other hand, that such a diminishing point of view, so to speak, might lead to one's doing nothing at all.

One of the reasons why he's successful in this is that he's a keen observer of people. That's why he's able to do things like get out of military service or pretend to be a marquis and enchant a mother and daughter. For example, he considers a woman whom he sees at the circus. She's famous for her trapeze act. He says,

But I repeat my question: was Andromache really human? Was she a human being outside the ring, apart from her professional accomplishments, her almost unnatural — indeed, for a woman, wholly unnatural — achievements? To imagine her as wife and mother was simply stupid; a wife and mother, or even anyone who could possibly be thought of as one, does not hang head-down from a trapeze, swinging so violently that it almost turns all the way over. . . . She was not a woman; but she was not a man either and therefore not a human being. A solemn angel of daring with parted lips and dilated nostrils, that is what she was, an unapproachable Amazon of the realms of space beneath the canvas, high above the crowd, whose lust for her was transformed into awe.

This also shows Felix's obsession with being able to control himself and others. He's focused on Andromache because she's capable of entrancing a crowd and keeping them on edge. He wants to be able to have that skill—though not as a circus performer.

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