The Infant Prodigy Analysis
by Thomas Mann

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Much of the effect of the sketch comes from the omniscient perspective of a narrator who can recount the thoughts of all characters, thus allowing the reader to see beneath the surface of the concert. This permits the ironic contrast between, for example, Bibi’s condescending view toward the audience and the equally condescending view of the piano teacher and the critic toward Bibi. Nearly all the characters are subject to this ironic vision. At times, the irony is quite straightforward, as when the best seats are described as belonging to the upper class because they “of course” feel the most enthusiasm for art. At other times, the position of the narrator is more difficult to determine. When one of Bibi’s pieces is called “an effective childhood fantasy, remarkably well envisaged,” is that description an objective assessment by the narrator or a mocking of the rhetoric of the concert’s program?

The irony is supported by Mann’s precise observation and imagery. When the princess applauds, she does so “daintily and noiselessly pressing her palms together.” Her companion, “being only a lady-in-waiting,” must “sit up very straight in her chair.” Images of water are used to contrast Bibi the performer and Bibi the artist. As a performer, he is described as “diving into the applause as into a bath.” As an artist, he regards the “realm of music” as “an inviting ocean, where he might plunge in and blissfully swim.”