Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 785
Anatol Ludwig Stiller
Anatol Ludwig Stiller (AN-ah-tohl LEWT-vihg SHTIH-lehr), a sculptor. The novel begins when the protagonist returns to Switzerland after a seven-year disappearance. He claims to be an American, James Larkin White, but is thought to be a missing Zurich artist, Anatol Ludwig Stiller. On the request of his defense counsel, Stiller writes seven notebooks recording his life. As a young man, Stiller fought in the Spanish Civil War, but he believes himself to have acted in a cowardly manner. He wants to be someone he is not and is plagued by an uncertain sense of identity and an inability to accept himself. He is imaginative, insecure, talkative, capricious, and charming. He and his cronies spent countless hours discussing art, but the art he produces is mediocre. His greatest challenge is his marriage to the dancer Julika, a doll-like and aloof woman whose distance and reserve he fails to broach. After a brief affair with Sibylle, he flees to America to begin a new life, but seven years later he returns to Switzerland and reluctantly accepts his old identity. He and Julika move to a farmhouse, where he works as a potter. Two years later, Julika dies, and Stiller lives quietly and alone in the countryside.
Julika Stiller-Tschudy (YEW-lih-kah SHTIH-lehr-TSHEW-dee), a ballet dancer and Stiller’s wife. Julika has the lithe and trained body of a dancer, more boyish in its impression than womanly. She is coolly beautiful, with “bluish-green eyes like the edges of colorless window-glass.” Her lips are rather thin, and her plucked eyebrows give her a perpetually surprised expression. She has luxurious red hair and an alabaster complexion. She values her dancing, at which she is very successful; she is the primary supporter in the Stiller-Tschudy household. Julika is taciturn, practically unable to express herself verbally and unwilling to reveal anything about her inner life. She keeps her serious illnesses from her husband until the last moment and then withdraws into quiet suffering. Following an apparent cure at Davos, Julika, who appears to be a beautiful object, a work of art rather than a flesh-and-blood woman, succumbs to tuberculosis two years after Stiller’s return to Switzerland.
Rolf, Stiller’s public prosecutor. As a sensible person who diligently performs his duties, Rolf is Stiller’s opposite. During their conversations in Stiller’s prison cell, he and Stiller become friends and remain so after Stiller’s release. The prosecutor reveals to Stiller that his coolly theoretical view of marriage, that spouses must give each other a great deal of privacy and freedom, collapsed in the light of his wife’s confessed infidelity. Ironically, his wife had fallen in love with Stiller, although the prosecutor and Stiller did not meet until after Stiller’s reappearance seven years later. In a sense, the prosecutor is both the public accuser and the accusing husband; he is, however, completely nonjudgmental and is more understanding than Stiller’s appointed defense counsel. He becomes Stiller’s good friend. The prosecutor seems to have acquired a level of equanimity and tolerance that eludes Stiller. In a postscript to Stiller’s notebooks, he records the events occurring after Stiller’s release from prison.
Sibylle (sih-BIHL -leh), Rolf’s wife. The dark-haired Sibylle, in her late twenties, is the mother of a little boy, Hannes. She reluctantly accepts her husband’s infidelities, which occur when he is on business trips and are said to have nothing to do with his relationship to her. She retaliates through flirtations at social events. She lacks fulfillment in her marriage, and her interest in Stiller, which began as a provocation...
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to her husband, evolves into a love affair. When she understands that Stiller finally agrees to go to Paris with her only because business is taking him there anyway, she leaves both her husband and Stiller and moves to New York with her son. She supports herself and him by working as a secretary. After several years of separation without a divorce, her husband travels to New York, and Sibylle and Hannes return to Switzerland with him. Sibylle and Rolf have another child and seem to lead a reasonably content married life.
Dr. Bohnenblust (BOH-nehn-blewst), Stiller’s defense counsel, appointed by the state. He visits Stiller in his cell and requests that he write down his life story. Bohnenblust is a decent and inoffensive fellow from a good family; he is inhibited but just. Stiller is irritated by his moderation and didacticism. Bohnenblust seems to believe that by trying to talk common sense into Stiller, he can change him.
Knobel (KNOH-behl), Stiller’s warden. Knobel is the only one who believes Stiller’s claim that he is not Stiller.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 386
I’m Not Stiller is a novel about characters seeking freedom—the freedom to accept themselves as they are. Stiller always casts himself in the role of a hero, thus setting impossible tasks for himself. Trying to be a hero, he finds himself to be a coward. Attempting to re-create his wife, he symbolically becomes her murderer. Only when he examines his life can he come to terms with his failures. Armed with this knowledge, Stiller refuses to accept his old identity. In his path toward freedom, he moves toward self-acceptance but finds himself once again pursuing the impossible task of saving his wife. After her death, Stiller withdraws from the world and falls silent. Whether his silence signifies the true inner freedom of self-acceptance or reveals the resignation of a man absorbed in his own despair is one of the haunting questions of this novel.
Like Stiller, Rolf hides behind a false persona, trying to create an open marriage that would allow him and his wife to engage in extramarital affairs. Only by coming to grips with his true feelings is Rolf able to see that there is no freedom without commitment. Sybelle, Rolf’s wife, seeks to challenge her husband by freely engaging in an affair, which leads her into open promiscuity. Only when she leaves Rolf to earn her own living in America is she able to gain freedom. In the end, Rolf and Sybelle are reunited.
Julika, unfortunately, is never able to be free. Although Stiller continually molds her into a “graven image,” not allowing her to be herself, she remains with him, unable to see that she is compelled to play the part of a victim. After seven years of health and prosperity, she returns to Stiller, once again becoming a childlike victim instead of a mature, independent woman. In the end, her inability to free herself and face responsibility costs her her life.
Dr. Bohnenblust, Stiller’s defense counsel, is the typical patriotic Swiss who sees freedom in terms of laws, rights, and institutions. He questions nothing, always appeals to common sense, and offers Stiller a middle-of-the-road path of self-sacrifice, connubial obligations, and public responsibility. His is a life based on shallow, external appearances. Inwardly he is empty—an inauthentic man, imprisoned in a sterile system which he has created.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 34
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