Characters Discussed

Joseph Knecht

Joseph Knecht, Ludi Magister Josephus III, an elite student of Castalia who is, at the age of forty, appointed Master of the Game, an instrument of transformation and perfection. The novel’s narrator recounts Knecht’s story as a legend rather than as strict biography and traces Knecht’s development from his teenage years at the schools Eschholz and Waldzell, to his years as Master of the Game, and, lastly, to his brief entry into the vita activa before his death. The existential experiences of his life gradually bring him closer to full self-realization (“awakening”). A compassionate individual and open-minded thinker, the protagonist becomes the leader and prototype of all who cultivate the realm of the mind. He displays the most positive of virtues and qualities, and after much study and learning he eventually is able to integrate the ideals of Castalia (mind and contemplation) with those of the temporal world beyond (nature and life). Focused and goal-directed, the self-reliant Knecht exhibits freedom from personal ambition and yet an intense desire for success as he proceeds down the path of self-analysis and ultimate fulfillment. Knecht’s tranquil, cheerful, and radiant manner is free of somberness and fanaticism. His adherence to the ideals of Castalia is superseded by his altruism and preeminent quest for the truth achieved through genuine self-realization. As the meaning of his name in German signifies, Knecht is a servant. He ultimately stands in service to humanity, which is symbolized through his self-sacrifice in ensuring young Tito’s safe emergence from the water as he himself dies.

The Music Master

The Music Master, one of the twelve demigods of the Board of Educators for Castalia. He exercises supreme authority in musical matters. Old and kindly, he functions as Knecht’s lifelong friend and wise mentor. He imparts to Knecht an appreciation of the importance of meditation and of finding truth within oneself. A saintly figure, the Music Master embodies serene cheerfulness and dignity and, in contrast to the other characters with the exception of Knecht, achieves harmony within the world. Through him, Knecht learns that the only path to truth and fulfillment is through oneself.

Plinio Designori

Plinio Designori (PLEE-nee-oh deh-zeen-NYOH-ree), a hospitant at Waldzell, combative friend of Knecht, and future man of the world as politician and government official. Older than Knecht, the handsome, fiery, and well-spoken Designori is a non-Castalian from the outside world who embraces anticlerical views. His dedication to the temporal world (nature) is, however, one-sided, as is revealed when his self-confidence is threatened by the difficulties that he encounters in rearing and relating to...

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The Characters

Through a complex literary style that places The Glass Bead Game squarely in the modernist camp, Hesse gives first attention not to Knecht, the subject of the biography, but to the narrator composing the biography for the reader. This narrator, by the careful use of detail and by reporting only incidents supported or at least hinted at in the Castalian records (including Knecht’s own writings) comes to life for the reader as the novel progresses through Knecht’s career. It is the narrator’s duty to describe Castalian life as Knecht lived it and to do so in the measured, neutral tones appropriate to the principles of Castalian intellectual discourse. Nevertheless, the narrator reveals an affection for and an indebtedness to Joseph Knecht that, together with a hint at the very end of the novel, suggest that Tito, the young son of Plinio, grows up to become a Magister Ludi and is, in fact, the narrator himself.

The object of the narrator’s biography, however, is the central figure in the novel. Joseph Knecht is more than the sum of his accomplishments as listed by his biographer, because Hesse’s style offers ironical interpretations of the events in the story. What is reported as warm discussion is understood by the reader to have been heated argument; what is described as an inquisitive and curious temperament is understood by the reader to be a bold, questioning, even challenging, young student spirit, one which must be tamed from time to time by the even-tempered admonishments of his tutors. Knecht’s resistance to but eventual fascination with the Glass Bead Game is interpreted by the careful reader as the reluctance of the normal, bright student to sacrifice the pleasures of youthful arrogance to the sedulous study of orderly disciplines, along with the kind of grudging admission of the value of knowledge that comes only with maturity. Part of Knecht’s success in Castalia is a result of the combination of quickness of mind and independence...

(The entire section is 807 words.)