Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 338
Themes in Simplicissimus the Vagabond include social status, transformation, and the battle between innocence and experience.
Social status is a major theme in the novel. Simplicissimus is raised on a small farm by a kind family that he believes is his own. Later, he meets a hermit who takes him in after the farm is destroyed by soldiers. The hermit teaches him about the world; he also teaches him about religion and about being removed from the world. When the hermit dies, though, Simplicissimus is forced into a series of groups that operate largely on social status. He ruminates on this and attempts to find ways to raise his social standing. Even when he does, it doesn't make his life better or make him happy. Ultimately, he thinks that returning to the woods and living like a hermit will make him happier.
Transformation also plays a major role in the book. Simplicissimus changes every time he meets a new group. He has to adopt different personalities and take on different roles to get by. He pretends to be a woman at one time and a doctor another. He takes on the role of page, soldier, friend, and husband. Over and over, Simplicissimus is forced to change. These changes don't change the inner man, however. He still longs for something more—until he recognizes that all he wants is to live quietly.
The struggle between innocence and experience is another major theme in the story. Simplicissimus is so innocent at the beginning that he can't tell a soldier from a wolf. As he gains experience, however, he is able to do more things like avenge a friend who's been injured by a bad man, have several love affairs, and find his true parentage. This experience doesn't make him happier or more successful. Instead, he keeps attaining a comfortable life and then falling back down to poverty. He only finds peace when he returns to the woods and lives in the same way as his true father—the hermit—did.
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