Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The theme of Young Torless is self-development. The main character, after a number of wanderings, false starts, and mistakes, chooses the right path and becomes a mature member of society and a well-balanced human being. Torless’ experiences while at the boarding school represent intermediate stages within the larger process of growth. Away at school, he becomes aware of a yearning that takes a variety of shapes. He feels homesick at first, but when this subsides, it leaves a void rather than contentment: He is still unformed. He attempts to fill the emptiness through friendship with Prince H., but this relationship is artificial and superficial, so he devises a pretext to end the association. He then becomes the disciple or assistant to Reiting and Beineberg, who give him protection and advice since they are better versed in the political machinations of the school. He joins them so as not to lag behind, but he must finally outgrow them too, because he has the subtler mind. In contrast, they are incapable of understanding his search for something natural, something within himself, because it is so unlike their own quests for power over others. He must look for his answers in the company of Bozena, who partially liberates his inner being through degradation, or Basini, who, through another sort of debasement, makes possible the growth of desire.

While his relationships and experiences contribute to his self-development,Torless is tried in one...

(The entire section is 431 words.)