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 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.