Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385
The Dwarf is a novel by Swedish writer Pär Lagerkvist. The book was published in 1944. The novel's story centers on a dwarf that lived during the Renaissance period in a fictional northern Italian city. The story is narrated by the titular dwarf, and he relates his experiences in the form of a diary. The novel shows that historical events are interpreted differently by each person—which in this case is from the perspective of someone who is a dwarf. However, the narrator is not a lovable person. He has a deep hatred for humanity and is constantly finding aspects of different people to scrutinize.
The dwarf's personality and temperament is similar to how dwarfs are depicted in Nordic folklore. The only difference is that the narrator is a dwarf in the medical definition of the term, meaning that he is a person with physical abnormalities—rather than a mythical dwarf with supernatural powers.
The narrator is obsessed with war and violence and has a dogmatic view of Christianity. He is someone who admires Machiavellian practices, and this is why the prince is the only person that he admires. The prince is the unofficial ruler of the city-state, and he rules it like a tyrant; this is perhaps a reference to Mussolini, who was in power during Lagerkvist's time. The prince and the narrator could also be composites of various fascists during that same time period (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, et al.).
Another interesting aspect of the story is the dynamic that the narrator has with the prince. The former is obsessed with protecting and aiding the latter, even going so far as to exact vengeance on the prince's behalf without provocation. When the narrator assassinates a fierce rival of the prince's (because the rival had slept with the prince's wife), there is a hint that the dwarf viewed the prince as a kind of soul mate or metaphorical twin—although in a non-romantic, non-sexual way.
An additional interpretation is that the dwarf is "living through" the prince, since they share similar personalities and qualities. Therefore, the dwarf genuinely believes that he and the prince are the same entity. This is why he murders the prince's wife for her infidelity; he believes that backstabbing the prince is the same as betraying him.