Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

Horacker is constructed around a deceptive idyll. The outward appearance of a gentle and charming life in the small town of Gansewinckel and the atmosphere of a late summer afternoon hide the undercurrent of “chaos, absurdity, and stupidity of this world.” In this contrast lies a recognition of the conflict between reality and ideals, the conflict between selfish individual interests and concern for the community.

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Social criticism surfaces in the petty argument by the local farmers over quarter-money, a small sum of money which the schoolmaster and pastor traditionally earned by making a personal visit to every head of family in the parish on New Year’s Day; this custom has not been followed for more than a century, and the farmers now wish to reinstate it. More seriously, a criticism of the cruelty with which outcast individuals are treated by the community is illustrated by the central story of Horacker and Lottchen. The villagers look at suffering with the same detachment as Neubauer, or sometimes even with malicious enjoyment. The suffering of people such as Horacker and Lottchen is a reminder that not all is idyllic in the community, that the community has failed at least some of its members.

The value of the humane individual is upheld in such characters as Eckerbusch, who disperses the crowd gathered outside the parsonage by refusing to accept its judgment, relying instead on his own. He stands for that small circle of compassionate individuals which serves as a guide to the young people in their confusion and attempts to deal with society’s demands. The digression on the word “one” (German man)—“Who is one?”—actually embodies this conflict. In the parsonage, Winckler sends Widow Horacker some trousers for Cord because “one simply cannot sit by and watch,” while at the same time in the village, the loss of some cabbage and potatoes stolen by hungry people causes the reaction: “Oh, wouldn’t one love to skin the scoundrels alive.”

The idyllic small town pictured here is a lost paradise, just as Eckerbusch is the last of a dying breed. The contradictions of later nineteenth century society are reflected in the contrast between selfish materialism (often associated with city life) and unselfish humane action (associated with a small town or haven away from the city), even though the sympathy and desire to help of people like the Eckerbusches or Wincklers contrasts sharply with the average villager’s detachment from all but his own suffering. Although humane intervention helped Horacker and Lottchen, it is the result of an individual response rather than of the concerted action of a humane village community. As such, it is clear that Wilhelm Raabe sees the ideal of humane action as something which is being eroded and will finally be lost in modern society.

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