Martini Hospital


Symbolism and Allegory

The use of symbols and allegories in the novella Tonio Kröger written by Thomas Mann is done widely through the story to describe the difficult moments that the protagonist is going through in her quest to find herself. The discussion that the author focuses on is how a person as an artist can be separated from his or her artistic world from that of everyday life as well as the position taken between the two. Some of the areas highlighted in this essay include; the protagonist’s struggle in finding his true self, his divided self on who he loves and the final journey he makes to his hometown so as to come to terms with himself. The exposition is where there is a fourteen-year-old boy with the relationship that he has with Hans Hansen, his friend who is a complete opposite of the characteristics and nature of Tonio. Hans is blond, with an athletic body and has blue eyes while the protagonist is described as dark, with a “southern face.” They also differ on the kind of interests that they have. Tonio is an artist who writes poems and Hans is not interested in any activity of the kind. The father to Tonio, who is a German Consul, Kröger, does not approve of the kind of poems that he writes or the fact that he partakes in the activity. His mother, on the other hand, supports him fully. His mother is of foreign origin and has a unique similarity with the author. Tonio, however, gives in to the concerns of his father and finds that his tendency to write is “wanton and … inappropriate”. The protagonist spends his early life divided between a stable world that is symbolized by a fountain and an old walnut tree, and the life as an artistic that is nonconformist symbolized by the sea and caravan dwelling gypsies. People who have been critical of this work of literature have argued that the mixture of the protagonist’s blood and character and the resulting view that he holds of art as being the most biographical part of the story. At this point in the novella, there are already visible signs of the struggle that he has with the artistic life and what he considers to be the normal life. Apart from his ensuing conflict with Hans, the protagonist has become more engrossed in Don Carlos by schiller especially the emotional part of the content. His friend is engaged and attracted to the horse books in his collection that have lots of pictures. Tonio is horrified at the idea of his friend writing poems like him as he thinks that normal life is better than that of an artist. He thinks that Hans “was to remain as he was, clear and strong”. The quest of Tonio to find himself and be accepted is particularly agonizing as portrayed by the author using symbols and allegory as exhibited in the examples in the following sections of this essay.

The first example where the author uses both allegory and symbolism in the narrative is when the protagonist is 16 years, and having feelings of love towards Ingeborg Holm. The love he feels for her starts at a dance class that they both attend as members of the bourgeois families. The lady is blonde and has blue colored eyes creating a picture of the perfect northern stock. The features of Inge are somewhat very similar to those of Hans, who Tonio has feelings for too. The lady pays little attention to the protagonist’s moves on her, but there are other ladies that are attracted to him. For example, Magdalena Vermehren, a girl from her class is interested in his artistic work and his personality. She is used as a symbol to portray the part of his life that he does not admire but has to live with. Tonio, however, wants to give his undivided attention to Inge. He is eternal conflict with his personality. There is a part of him that wants and admires normal life, while, on the other hand, his skills in the arts and all the people that admire his work are not attractive to him as places where he can find comfort as represented by his reactions to Magdalena. Through detailed description and inferring to what he cannot have, the protagonist, as shown in several parts of the narrative, is attracted to that “dignified and respectable” trait that his father portrays. In one of the dancing sessions, they form into groups where Inge ends up in his group. The presence of her so closely makes him to lose focus and concentration as he finds himself dancing the part to be danced by the females. The group’s laughter because of his actions is what brings him back from the momentary lapse. He exists from the class as they are still laughing at his actions as he goes to contemplate on his existence and the division for what he should pursue, life or literature? Again, his admiration for people who he considers to be living ‘normal lives’ is portrayed. He expects that at this point Inge would come to comfort him because of the embarrassment he has suffered. When this does not happen, the protagonist is able to move past his love for her and devotes himself to literature. Tonio in the long run has no connection to the small town of his home, but develops a talent in writing. He moves to Munich just like the events of the author. The allegory used might be in a way mean that the story of the protagonist is like an autobiography of Thomas Mann. Being in Munich, coupled with the experiences that he had in his youth, make him adopt a perception that he feels reflects the way the world should be: through art, “the person who lives does not work and… an artist must virtually die in order to be fully creative”. This is the philosophy that guides him through the better part of the short story.

The story’s plot is arranged in few episodes that cover the life of the protagonist. Another vivid example where the symbolism is used in the novella is when Tonio Kröger is just over thirty. He is having trouble in his writing activity because of the nice spring weather. It starts off with the protagonist’s anecdote of running into another write like him who laments, “God damn the spring!” as it makes him incapable of writing and the author symbolically refers to the situation as a person that is, “harassed by a swarm of inappropriate sensations”. Tonio and a friend of his that is a painter called Lisaveta Ivanovna, start to have conversations about their views on the relationship that exists between art and life. The protagonist airs his opinion that “only a botcher believes that a creative person is allowed to feel”. The kind of distance to be kept between human experiences and the artist, as he believes, is crucial so as to enable the artists to depict it in any kind of art. Through allegory, in the same conversation, Tonio converses about how he is “slightly ashamed…of being an artist” and confesses that he is “touched by the warm and awkward human feelings that [his] art has evoked” in his readers. Tonio also confesses his love for the different facets of life although he is attached deeply to art. What he is specifically attracted to is the “health and innocence” that he compares to individual who “prefer books about horses, illustrated with high-speed photos”. The allusion he makes is an obvious allusion to his friend, Hans indicates that this kind of love was always in existence. Despite this declaration of love, the protagonist indicates that for him, the separation between life and art is important. The author portrays this through use of artistic techniques through anecdote of a lieutenant whose writings and recitals of poetry are done to the annoyance and discomfort of everyone at the gatherings. Tonio views that the mixing of art and life can only be through situations embarrass people, and the combination is in an uncomfortable manner. After the conversation, Lisaveta in an honest manner offers a summary of Tonio’s condition by referring to him as, quite simply, a “lost burgher” or member of the bourgeoisie; meaning that, though he does not want to accept or appreciate, he is still a member of the part of his life that he wanted to be separated from. As a result of the conversation, and probably a lot of meditation, the protagonist, later in that year, takes a trip to the north to Denmark, and not the south that is normally associated with art. He goes through the “point of departure”, or his home. The trip is his journey to the part of him that he always admired, but was afraid to admit.

Lastly, the travelling of the protagonist is a symbol that portrays the journey that the protagonist has gone through to discover his true self through the thirteen years missing in the largely autobiographical nature of the novel. There is barely no one who can recognize him as he is facing the many fears that he had while he was a child growing up in this area. When he finally gets to what used to be his home in the period that he lived here, he finds out that the place has been changed into a public library. Symbolically portrayed here is the fact that, just as literature has replaced ‘his normal life’, so too has the former objects of his life been replaced literally by books. While departing from the town, he encounters police who believe he fits the description of the fugitive they are searching. Tonio is able to prove his identity by showing some of his work that is to be published; hence, his position as an artist makes him respectable in the town of his origin. While embarking on the stormy journey back to Denmark, the protagonist is happy to just look at the cargo being loaded onto the ship, making him amused just in his childhood days. While he is on his way out of the country, the protagonist settles for a rest at an inn where guests for a ball are expected. In his rediscovered state of love for people, he watches them as they enter the inn. He notices a couple that is a brother and sister, whose resemblance to his childhood friends Hans and Inge. He revisits his childhood memories using a different perspective as he also rediscovers his love for the “burghers”. At the ball hosted in the in, he spots a girl that resembles Magdalena, and he comes to her aid when she misses her step and falls down while dancing. Through his newly discovered self, he is able to view the people at the ball with admiration as he finally retires o bed a contented man. At the end of the story is the letter composed by the protagonist to Lisaveta telling her of how he has come to find himself and the tough stance he had on his status. In the letter, he describes how he has been able to establish a connection with his bourgeois condition with that love of life, an idea that was often received as a welcome idea from Mann as a further development of his ideas about art and society. In an allegorical manner, at the conclusion of the short story, he expresses the lack of envy on his part “proud, cold people who venture along the paths of great, demonic beauty and scorn ‘human beings’”. He is able to accept his state of being concerning his isolation and the love that he has towards literature, the love he had towards Hans and Inge, referring to all these at the conclusion, “a very chaste bliss”.