Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 611
Alexander Walpurg, a mad poet confined in an insane asylum. The twenty-nine-year-old Walpurg embodies the romantic conception of the poet as reflected in his model, German poet Heinrich von Kleist. His life has been in total service to his art and has been lived on the edge, filled with excesses in drink, drugs, sex, and violence. Walpurg represents the romantic stereotype of the poet physically as well, with his dark complexion, brooding good looks, slender figure, and disheveled beard and mustache. Walpurg views the creative process as a power that compels him to create and views his madness as a symptom of the highly explosive and unpredictable creative surge that propels him to rebel against social conformity.
Sister Anna, whose real name is Alina, a young nun assisting in the psychiatric ward where Walpurg is confined. Sister Anna entered the convent when her lover abandoned her under the influence of Walpurg’s poetry, which they used to read together. Believing that she can save Walpurg from despair, she takes off her nun’s habit and large cross on a chain and releases Walpurg from his straitjacket, revealing in their subsequent lovemaking an ardent and passionate temperament. She is a very pretty light blonde with a twenty-two-year-old’s naïveté and vulnerability.
Dr. Jan Bidello
Dr. Jan Bidello, a non-Freudian psychiatrist and one of the doctors working on Walpurg’s case. Bidello distrusts psychoanalysis, having no confidence in its therapeutic value. He believes that people who have become insane cannot be cured but only subdued through drugs, confinement, and straitjackets. He is sarcastic and dictatorial in manner. When Grün suggests that Walpurg be released from his straitjacket, Bidello protests that there is no honor among madmen, a theory soon verified when Walpurg stabs him in the temple with a pencil, thereby killing him. In the final coup de théâtre, Bidello returns as a gallant man-about-town and whisks off the dead Walpurg and Sister Anna to a new, pleasurable life, meanwhile cautioning Grün to analyze himself quite thoroughly.
Dr. Ephraim Grün
Dr. Ephraim Grün, a psychoanalyst of the Freudian school. Grün is in many respects a caricature of the excesses of psychoanalysis, reflected in his uncritical discussion of the resolution of complexes, the sexual drive, guilt feelings, and the role of the subconscious. His diagnosis of Walpurg’s madness shows its root in a twin sister complex, with the killing of Bidello forming the resolution of that complex. When Walpurg hangs himself despite Grün’s assertions that he is cured, Grün feels a new complex coming on but can no longer identify it. Reduced to speaking psychobabble, Grün is confined in Walpurg’s cell.
Sister Barbara, the mother superior of the convent. Sixty years old, Sister Barbara has the demeanor of an aristocratic matron. She is a strict authoritarian and exercises her power over Sister Anna by using the will of God as her justification. When Sister Anna’s love affair is discovered, Sister Barbara’s reaction reveals her to be a bigoted, class-conscious, vindictive woman.
Professor Ernest Walldorff
Professor Ernest Walldorff, the director of the psychiatric ward. A minor character, he appears in the last scene to shift his allegiance from psychiatry to brain surgery. Walldorff projects the caricature image of the mad scientist as he shuts Grün into Walpurg’s cell and throws away the key.
Paphnatius, two attendants dressed in hospital uniforms. Alfred is bald with a black beard, whereas Paphnatius has red hair and beard. Both represent soulless automatons who execute whatever is commanded with jerky and mechanical movements.
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