Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Gottfried Keller’s dance legend supports two opposite interpretations. As the story progresses, there is a shift in emphasis from Musa and dance to the Muses and song. The question is how the two parts relate to each other. One analysis may see the Muses’ uncouth song as supporting evidence for David’s statement that dance in Heaven is more refined and exquisite than the best dance on Earth. By extension, the same would be true of all the arts. Thus, in comparison with the blessed who enjoy eternal life in Heaven, the Muses appear as crude misfits who deserve to be expelled. Creatures of Greek mythology do not belong in the Christian Heaven.

Additional information indicates an alternative reading, in which Musa’s self-denial is a tragic waste of her talent, and the worldly art of the Muses contains heights and depths of mortal aspiration not accessible to those in Heaven.

Keller was a nonbeliever whose thinking was influenced by the materialistic philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach. A Swiss scholarship enabled Keller to study in Heidelberg in 1848 and 1849, where he attended Feuerbach’s lectures and developed a close friendship with him. Feuerbach believed that because life on Earth is all humans have, people should devote all of their energies to leading a natural and moral life. Life should not be passed in preparation for an uncertain reward in Heaven. When seen in that light, the Christian requirement that Musa renounce dance and all...

(The entire section is 456 words.)