Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

On one level, Rosshalde is a domestic tragedy about incompatibility in which, inevitably, the children must pay the price. Albert’s bitter hatred and coldness and Pierre’s death are the emblems of guilt in a marriage that, for no specific reason, simply did not work.

This domestic drama, however, is merely...

(The entire section contains 462 words.)

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On one level, Rosshalde is a domestic tragedy about incompatibility in which, inevitably, the children must pay the price. Albert’s bitter hatred and coldness and Pierre’s death are the emblems of guilt in a marriage that, for no specific reason, simply did not work.

This domestic drama, however, is merely a vehicle for Hesse’s principal theme. Whether as self-justification for his artistic preoccupation or as genuine philosophic truth about what is demanded of the artist, Hesse’s view that the artist must wrench himself free from marriage, family, and all other bourgeois attachments and give himself completely to his art is the obsessive message of the book. When Veraguth is offered the chance of escape to the East, he feels the surge of a torrent of unconscious and instinctual forces which have long been suppressed.

Although much of the work is filled with Veraguth’s proclaimed love for Pierre, Veraguth seldom seems to have time for the boy except for an absentminded pat on the head when the child comes to his studio. Much more of the novel is filled with what Hesse calls the “bitter joy” of the creator who can find the happiness of freedom only within an iron discipline and can only find fulfillment through an ascetic obedience to his artistic sense of truth. Although he believes that he has bungled his attempts at love and life, Veraguth also believes that he has almost succeeded in giving his art the richness his life has lost. The irony of the artist’s position in the novel is that it is precisely through his anguish that he is able to create his finest work.

It is just this realization, however, that makes Pierre’s death all the more poignant, for he seems the necessary sacrifice which will not only free Veraguth but also create the great sorrow which he will transform into a painting. In this sense, Pierre seems little more than a puppet who exists only to be immolated on the altar of art. When the child is dying, Veraguth feels the suffering burn in his heart with a “dark delight” that, even as it is unbearable, is pure and great. After the boy dies, Veraguth’s final act is to sketch the dead child’s features.

The theme of the novel is a relatively pure and simple one: The artist must stay removed from life, for every aspect of the artist’s life exists for him only as subject matter and stimulus for his art. Thus, the true artist lives only within his art, for there is nothing for him; even those external elements of “real life” are either transformed by him into art or treated by him as if they were the elements of art.

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