Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Törless (TEHR-lehs), a young boy at the celebrated military boarding school “W” in a remote eastern town of the Austrian Empire. When Törless first arrives at the boarding school, he is homesick and writes letters home almost daily. Although a friendship with the youthful cadet Prince H. helps him to overcome this early personal problem, it is only when Törless becomes acquainted with two older classmates, Beineberg and Reiting, that he begins to resolve this crisis in his psychological development. Beineberg indirectly helps Törless to overcome the attendant and painful experiences of his awakening sexuality. Most important in the coming to adolescent consciousness, however, is his difficult and ambivalent homosexual relationship with his classmate Basini. Even though Törless is physically present during the torture of Basini and even receives some vicarious pleasure from the events, he seems to be intellectually separated from them. He is trying to come to terms with a confusion that does not allow him to reconcile the events he observes and feels with the intellectual world he is developing. No one on the faculty seems able to help him to articulate this dilemma. It is not until later, while under questioning about the Basini affair, that Törless suddenly recognizes the conundrum that has plagued him. He explains that there are things that are on some occasions seen with the eyes and at other times with the eyes of the soul. Having attained this insight, Törless decides to leave the boarding school.


Basini (bah-SEE-nee), another student. Basini has all the personal characteristics of the physically...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The duality of existence that is postulated in Young Torless is expressed, among other ways, through the characters. They symbolize certain concepts and, like the protagonist himself, who exists only as an inner man, they are somewhat less than human. There are at least two groups—Reiting and Beineberg on one hand and Basini, Bozena, and Prince H. on the other hand—that form dichotomies through their inclusion in the novel. First, Reiting and Beineberg represent two great tendencies in the history of civilization: Western thought versus Eastern thought. Reiting admires Napoleon Bonaparte and dreams of coups d’etat and high politics. He knows no greater pleasure than setting people against one another through complicated intrigues and reveling in his victims’ hate. In this way and by boxing almost daily, he claims to be practicing for life. Beineberg, however, feels an affinity with the philosophers and holy men of India. His interest is the legacy of his father, who was a general in the British Service there and brought home with him a feeling for esoteric Buddhism. The general dreamed that he might achieve dominion over others through the exercise of certain spiritual powers. Whereas Reiting sacrifices other human beings to be able to observe the process, Beineberg’s object is the furtherance of a profound inner knowledge. Nevertheless, both subordinate humanity to an abstract conceptualizing which, if originally beneficial to humanity, ultimately enlists humankind in its own service.

Reiting and Beineberg operate within guidelines established by society. Torless’ class is like a small state, complete with laws, mass movements, and wars, and his two friends have assumed the role of leaders, each in his unique way. Yet there is another world, dark and mysterious, which exists apart from the solid everyday world of respectable citizens. Torless intuits it, mainly in the form of an ineffable longing that torments him and which will find an object in Prince H. (who has an idyllic aura), Bozena (who provides a refuge from incomprehensible social order), and Basini (who cultivates Torless’ desire which then grows into some new and aimless craving). It is these dark, inner forces which Torless associates most closely with life itself. That association is made clear when he notes that all seemed dead at the school after the expulsion of Basini. Torless’ final discovery is the necessity of the coexistence of these worlds.


(Great Characters in Literature)

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Peters, Frederick G. Robert Musil, Master of the Hovering Life: A Study of the Major Fiction, 1978.

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