Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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

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,...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Adamson, G.L. The Contemporaneity of Max Frisch’s Novels, 1973.

Butler, M. The Novels of Max Frisch, 1976.

Peterson, C. Max Frisch, 1972.

Probst, G., and J. Bodine. Perspectives on Max Frisch, 1982.

Weisstein, Ulrich. Max Frisch, 1976.