The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr

by Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317

The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr: together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper is a satirical novel by Prussian writer and composer Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman. The novel, which was published in two volumes, is noted for its prose style and innovative literary techniques. The fantasy element of the story, in which a cat writes his autobiography, illustrates the nature of memoirs and biographies. In particular, E. T. A. Hoffman indirectly suggests that autobiographies can only be accepted at face value, because the readers of memoirs do not truly know the person behind the writings.

In the case of Kater Murr, that person is actually a tomcat. When Kater Murr's memoir is mixed up with the biography of composer Johannes Kreisler's, Hoffman's message further emphasized. The fact that the two biographies can harmonize seamlessly as if it is the biography of one individual shows that we can create mythologies about ourselves and our lives. On the other hand, the complex narrative and humorous chaos illustrate that people could lose their individuality in a world of billions. Although Kater Murr and Kreisler have different personalities, when their similarities (i.e. high intelligence) overlap, their respective identities become singular.

In essence, the two characters represent the intellectual class of their time and how they relate to a society that is anti-academic but pro-faux intellectualism, the latter being a trend among the nobility and upper-class. They are both rebel figures and they are both arrogant—although the arrogance is more pronounced in Kater Murr's character. Another subtext worth pointing out is the fact that autobiographies are inherently egotistical. This is fitting for both characters because of their arrogance, and it illustrates the further absurdity of the memoir and biography genre. Despite these shortcomings and flaws, the two intertwined characters represent how individuals are viewed by society versus how they view themselves.

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