Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the primary characteristics of Mann’s style is his frequent use of leitmotifs. The particular images and verbal patterns that recur throughout “Little Herr Friedemann” serve as reinforcement of Mann’s emphasis on the vulnerability of Friedemann and the strength of Gerda. For example, there are numerous references to small birds and bird sounds. Several times Friedemann is described as being pigeon breasted. Taken all together, they remind one that Friedemann is much like a frail bird, the prey of a far larger, predatory creature.

The numerous references to Gerda having a dead-white face, arms, and skin not only stress the connection she has with the femme fatale (who is almost always described in those ways) but also portray her as an emissary of death itself. Further, the motif of the jasmine bush recurs at critical points in the narrative: when Friedemann at sixteen sees his first love embracing behind that bush; when he sits on a bench near a blossoming jasmine by the river as he tries to make sense of Gerda’s ambiguous attitude toward him when he visited her at home; and, finally, again on that last night on the bench as he pours out his stumbling protestations of desire to her. The jasmine is white and is heavily scented. Clearly Mann wants it to be identified with Friedemann’s youthful sexual awakening and later with his several tormenting encounters with the only woman in Friedemann’s adult life, Frau von Rinnlingen.