Summary

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 696

Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus the Vagabond is the story of a young man who travels with the army during the Thirty Years' War. The protagonist, Simplicissimus, finds himself in many different locations and situations throughout the five sections of the book.

In part one, Simplicissimus is separated from...

(The entire section contains 1462 words.)

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Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus the Vagabond is the story of a young man who travels with the army during the Thirty Years' War. The protagonist, Simplicissimus, finds himself in many different locations and situations throughout the five sections of the book.

In part one, Simplicissimus is separated from his real family and offered a home by a man who lives in the woods. He thinks about his birth family and remembers that his father trusted him to take care of his sheep. Simplicissimus sees the position as one of honor and trust. When he sees soldiers come to his farm, he thinks at first that the horse and man is one creature and that they are there to eat the sheep. The soldiers destroy his father's house and torture the people there, which he says is what motivated him to learn lessons in the world. While hiding, he is found by a hermit, who gives him a home. The man is a nobleman who has fled from his estate; he teaches Simplicissimus lessons about how to function in the world. He stays for two years until the hermit dies. When he leaves, he is brought before the Governor of Hanau; his identity is vouched for by the pastor, who knew the hermit, and he becomes the Governor's page.

In the second part, he rises in rank until he looks not unlike a nobleman. Part of the reason for his favor is that the Governor is the hermit's brother-in-law. However, Simplicissimus loses this life when he is captured by the Croats. He dislikes life with them and his duties. He plots to escape. He lives as a minstrel and a fool with the Croats. He pays for a friend of his to escape his servitude. In Soest, he works to gain favor and riches. Simplicissimus finds himself better off than ever before.

In part three, Simplicissimus describes how he began to pillage and steal from people during the war. He says that he was the best at certain aspects of it because of his upbringing with the hermit. He does say, though, that he chose not to steal from the poor and only from people with means. During this, he hears that a man from Wesel has been impersonating him and committing worse crimes in his name. He shames the man, who then leaves. He describes his triumphs and conquests, which continue until he is captured by the Swedes.

Simplicissimus lives with the Swedes. Because of the reputation he has built fighting in Soest, he is given honor by them. Though he cannot return home, he has the run of the city where he lives and eventually marries the daughter of a Swede. She refuses to let him have sex with her; he says he has never met such resistance, but the lady is intent on marriage. She will only let him in to lie next to her at night. Her father finds them and insists on marriage.

In part four, Simplicissimus goes to France. He leaves to try to return to Germany under the guise of a doctor, but he is unsuccessful. Once again, he has to fight for a foreign military. He says he is the cousin of his friend Herzbruder because that helps him gain a better position. Unfortunately, his friend is taken advantage of by a man named Oliver. Ultimately, Oliver dies. Simplicissimus is reunited with Herzbruder and promises him that all of his money is at his friend's disposal.

In part five, Simplicissimus finally returns to Germany after traveling around with Herzbruder and learning that his wife has died. He happens upon his father, and it is revealed that Simplicissimus's "birth father" was actually his foster father. The hermit in the woods—the nobleman who escaped from his life—was Simplicissimus's actual father. He has several children from different women on the same night. His second wife dies. He goes to visit sylphs and asks for a medicinal spring to appear on his land. His wish is granted, but factors keep him from using it to make money. Ultimately, Simplicissimus goes back to live in the woods until his death.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 766

Simplicissimus’s beginning is one of a child of pure innocence. Since he lives far removed from any other influences except the small, barely sufficient farm near the Spessart forest, he presents himself as nothing short of a simpleton. His main job is looking after the livestock, and when told to look out for the foxes who come to raid the chickens, Simplicissimus mistakes some soldiers for foxes. Since he never saw either a fox or a knight before, he interprets them in the only way he knows how. The soldiers are soldiers of the Thirty Years’ War and plunder his family’s farm as Simplicissimus escapes into the forest.

Deep in the forest, he meets a hermit. This hermit asks him many questions that Simplicissimus can answer only in the most naïve manner. He cannot even tell the hermit his real name. He states that his father calls him “boy.” For two years the boy stays with the hermit and learns from him. The hermit dies and the pastor who gives Simplicissimus supplies is captured by the soldiers. The small town nearby is plundered. Simplicissimus again escapes to the forest but ends up having even his small hut plundered. He is taken as prisoner to the Governor of Hanau. The soldiers questions Simplicissimus, and again he cannot tell his name, nor much of his history. A pastor comes to Simplicissimus’s rescue by stating that the pastor saw Simplicissimus in a hermitage with the old man, who happened to be a nobleman disenchanted with the war.

As Simplicissimus’s life goes on, he begins his climb in status. He becomes a page, but his simpleton ways are not those of the court. He is at a grave disadvantage. He ends up looking and playing a fool. He comments liberally about society, and during a great feast, he sees men acting with such bad manners he thinks that they are representing themselves as beasts instead of men. The more he sees the more Simplicissimus realizes a fool’s ways are better suited for survival than the ways of a courtier.

Again his circumstance change and he becomes a prisoner to the Croats. He learns to serve many masters. He escapes dressed as a girl, but he is destined to serve as a lady’s maid. He is then discovered to be male and ends up as a horse boy, at which time he meets his friend Ulrich Herzbruder. Simplicissimus gives Ulrich money to escape, which Ulrich successfully does, and again Simplicissimus’s situation changes.

Simplicissimus is beginning to become educated as to the ways of the world. He begins to climb the ladder of success. He goes through the military ranks, and although he plunders, he never takes from the poor, always the rich. He has plenty of wealth and has a reputation as a superior forager, something he was taught by the hermit. Later, Simplicissimus discovers someone attempted to steal his name and reputation and committed crimes in his name, wearing the green garb synonymous with Simplicissimus. Simplicissimus finds and punishes this man. From this time forward, Simplicissimus aspires to become a nobleman, but his fate will not allow it. The Swedes capture him.

During his incarceration with the Swedes, Simplicissimus establishes himself with the ladies. The Swedes, after hearing of his reputation as a soldier, offer him a position in their armies, but Simplicissimus turns them down. The Swedes allow him to roam around the city at will. A young daughter of a colonel attracts Simplicissimus and they marry. Shortly after, Simplicissimus pledges his alliance to the Swedes.

Then his life changes again. On a trip to Cologne the Swedes convince him to go to Paris. There he loses his fortune in a robbery, but he gains many adventures in love. Then Simplicissimus uses a ruse to return to Germany; he impersonates a doctor. He never makes it back to Germany. Instead he is captured and forced to become a soldier in another army. He meets Oliver, who took advantage of his good friend Ulrich. Soldiers kill Oliver, and Simplicissimus travels onward.

Following the war, Simplicissimus visits a Swiss spa and stumbles upon an old man who happens to be his peasant father. Simplicissimus discovers that his peasant father is actually his foster father and that the old hermit of noble birth is his real father. From that time on, he has many adventures, including getting married again only to have his wife die after a year. In the end, Simplicissimus returns to the life of his real father and becomes a hermit.

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