(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Wilhelm Meister is traveling on foot with his young son, Felix. As a consequence of his liberation from ordinary desire through the noble Lothario and the abbot, the once-troubled Wilhelm becomes a Renunciant. Under the terms of his pledge, he is to wander for years, never stopping in one place more than three days. His travels are intended to give him a final philosophical polish. Gone are the countinghouse and the stage; he is now undertaking a last purifying sacrifice.

While Felix plays merrily on the mountainside, Wilhelm muses beside a steep path. Hearing voices, he turns to see his son with a group of children running downhill before a donkey driven by a holy-looking man. The beast carries a sweet-faced woman with a small baby. The adults smile at Wilhelm, but the path is too steep for them to stop. When Wilhelm catches up with the party, the man invites him to visit his household, and his wife amiably seconds the invitation. It is decided that Felix should go on ahead with the family and Wilhelm will follow the next day, after he retrieves his wallet, left high on the mountain.

When he arrives, Wilhelm is charmed to find the family living in a restored chapel. He is struck by the fact that the man’s name is Joseph and his wife’s is Mary; they do indeed seem a holy family. When he learns their story, Wilhelm is reverent.

Joseph’s father was a rent collector for an absentee landlord. Joseph was promised that if he grew to be a steady man and a competent craftsman, he would succeed his father, but instead he decided to be a woodworker. When he was sufficiently skilled, he began to restore the paneling in the old chapel. His best work was the reworking of an elaborate wood panel depicting the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.

One day, as Joseph was wandering on the trail, he found a beautiful woman weeping beside the path. Her husband was killed by robbers. Joseph, alarmed by the woman’s distress and condition, took her to his home and summoned his mother. Soon the widow delivered a child. After a patient courtship, Joseph married the widow, Mary, and took her to live in the old chapel. Now he is the rent collector in his father’s place and possesses a loving family.

While playing, Felix comes upon a box of stones that was given to Joseph by a scientist searching for minerals in that region. He learns that the geologist’s name is Montan, a name frequently used by his old friend Jarno. Wilhelm hopes to overtake the scientist in the course of his own wanderings. He and Felix start out, led by Fitz, a beggar boy who was a playmate for Felix during the stay with the collector and his wife. On the way, they come to a barrier of fallen trees. While their guide is looking for another path, Felix wanders into a nearby cave and there finds a small box, no larger than an octavo volume, rich-looking and decorated with gold. Wilhelm and his son decide to conceal the box among their belongings and to tell no one of its discovery for the time being.

A short time later, Fitz leads them to the place where Montan is prospecting. As Wilhelm expected, the scientist is Jarno, whom Wilhelm knew in his acting days, now a Renunciant geologist. They stay with Jarno for three days, while the scientist tries to satisfy Felix’s great curiosity about minerals and their properties.

The party leaves Jarno and starts off to survey a natural phenomenon known as the Giant’s Castle. Sending the...

(The entire section is 1416 words.)