Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Konrad, an eccentric scientist who is working on the definitive scientific treatise on the sense of hearing. He is a highly intelligent and sensitive man in late middle age. Konrad lives in an abandoned lime works in Upper Austria with his handicapped wife. He subjects her to endless experiments in which he forces her to make ever more subtle aural discriminations. She torments him by constantly making requests that interrupt his train of thought. He is obsessed with writing his great work, which he claims to have worked out in his head, but remains unable to put anything down on paper. One day, he loses his mind and kills his wife with the rifle that is strapped to her wheelchair. He is found by the police several days later, nearly frozen and cowering in a manure pit. He is awaiting trial for her murder.

Konrad’s wife

Konrad’s wife, a woman who is handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. In late middle age, she is forced to serve as a subject in her husband’s ongoing experiments on the sense of hearing.

The narrator

The narrator, an unnamed local insurance salesman who is gathering information on the Konrad couple. He interviews the local people and the police, but much of what he gathers as evidence is merely hearsay and rumor.


Fro and


Wieser, two local estate managers who provide much of the information concerning the Konrads to the narrator. They often report what they have heard from others.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Since the narrative provides conflicting information assembled by an obscure narrator from many different, often unreliable sources, it is treacherous to make any definitive statements about the central characters, Konrad and his wife. Even Konrad’s extensive self-revelations, reported by Fro and Wieser, that constitute a sizable portion of the novel are highly contradictory. Konrad, depending on whose testimony one is to believe, is a genius, a madman, or a fool. He himself likes to think of himself as a brilliant scientific philosopher. Similarly, it is unclear whether his crippled wife is cared for or shamelessly used by her husband

As far as Konrad is concerned, it is safe to say that he is a misanthropical monomaniac who has totally lost himself in what was to become a major “medico-musico-metaphysical-mathematical” study. Much of the novel reflects his convoluted, compulsive thought processes, which invariably return to his unrealized study. He tries to create favorable conditions for writing and, upon failing to write, tries to justify his inability to commit his thoughts to paper. He alternately blames his failure on interruptions from the outside world, on nature, on the lime works, and on his wife, but all these justifications are negated in time. The most likely cause for his foiled aspirations is mentioned at the very end of the novel, where Konrad is said to have lacked courage, decisiveness, intellectual audacity or, what was perhaps the most important quality of all, “fearlessness in the face of realization, of concretization.”

Konrad’s wife and half sister, whose maiden name is Zryd, is only referred to as Mrs. Konrad or the Konrad woman. Once a tall...

(The entire section is 696 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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Fetz, Gerhard. “The Works of Thomas Bernhard: Austrian Literature?” in Modern Austrian Literature. XVII, nos. 3/4 (1984), pp. 171-192.

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