Thesis: Existential Analysis of a Man Named Ziegler by Herman Hesse

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Existential analysis of a Man Named Ziegler by Hermann Hesse

An existential analysis is essentially and inquiry or interrogation of the meaning of human existence. It is in effect a confrontation with the world around us in a deeply questioning and honest way. Existential analysis can also be very disconcerting as its aim is to penetrate the pretences, conventions and ideologies that hide true reality. In the process of searching for meaning one encounters 'existential anxiety' in that one becomes aware that the life that one has been living and the way that one perceives the world is false.

Related to the above is the theme of authentic vs. inauthentic existence and the absurdity of existence. Facing up to reality can be extremely difficult. One has the choice to live a life that is comfortable but inauthentic or one that is perhaps painful and uncomfortable, but authentic.

This also refers to the difference between living a life of conformity to the opinion of other and the masses and a more authentic life of individualistic inquiry. One has to take into account the existential view that life and existence is essentiality absurd and not ordered and rational, as science would make us believe. Existentialism is therefore an intense journey of self-discovery about oneself and the world in which we live.

In his short story a Man Named Ziegler, Hermann Hesse confronts many of these existential themes. The most important aspect of existential analysis is the search for meaning in a world that often appears to be absurd. It is this search for meaning and the existential journey towards self-understanding that is the central theme of this story.

Hess also deals with many other related existential themes, such as authentic and inauthentic existence and the individual as opposed to the herd mentality. This paper will attempt to explore these and other existential themes in the text of the story.

2. The Individual vs. The Herd

A central theme that is evident throughout this story is the distinction made between adhering to conventions and mass illusion and individual authenticity. At the beginning of the story we are introduced to the protagonist in a way that clearly refers to this distinction.

There was once a young man by the name of Ziegler, who lived on Brauergasse. He was one of those people we see every day on the street, whose faces we can never really remember, because they all have the same face: a collective face.

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It is clear that Ziegler is a conventional man who has a "collective face" and who subscribes to the pretences and the norms of the society around him. He is both pretentious and unquestioning and is therefore portrayed as a stereotypical human being who lives in a state of in inauthenticity as one of the 'crowd'.

The narrator also clearly points out that Ziegler is a "modern man." As such he has "….unlimited respect for not only money, but also for a second power: science." (Page no.) on the other hand, like many other people in society, he does not understand or question science but accepts it at face value and believes the authorities. " He could not have said exactly what science was, he had in mind something on the order of statistics and perhaps a bit of bacteriology, and he knew how much money and honour the state accorded to science." (Page no.)

The above clearly shows that Ziegler believes in science as an infallible source of knowledge that gives order and reason to his existence. He also has faith in power and money. In existential terms he is man who is living the typical inauthentic existence of illusion, which is essentially empty of any real meaning.

Ironically, he also thinks of himself as an individual who is unique and different.

Like every other man, he regards himself as an individual, though in reality he was only following the conventions and norms of the society and not exploring his own individuality in any and real way; as the narrator states"…he was only a specimen…" (Page No.) He also prefers to ignore the reality of his existence: "…like other men he regarded himself and his life as the centre of the world. He was far removed from all doubts, and when facts contradicted his opinions…" ( page no.) Ziegler does not question but continues in his illusionary and inauthentic existence.

3. Authentic vs. Inauthentic existence

The issue of authenticity vs. inauthentic existence has been briefly referred to above. The author place a great deal of emphasis on this dichotomy and it is a central concept in existential philosophy.

The narrator stresses the ordinary and mundane, inauthentic existence that Ziegler leads. "Ziegler was everything and did everything that such people always are and do. He was not stupid, but neither was he gifted; he loved money and pleasure, liked to dress well, and was as cowardly as most people…" ( page no.) He is just like everyone else and is driven by desires and the fear of retribution or punishment. In other words his life is not authentic because it is a conventional copy of those around him. He is not living according to a real or authentic understanding and perception of the world.

There are many other examples of inauthentic existence in the story; for example, his concern with appearances.

In the second room he found a glass case in which he was reflected so clearly that he was able to stop for a moment and check up, carefully and to his entire satisfaction, on his coat, trousers, and the knot of his tie. (Page no.)

He is therefore more concerned with appearances than reality.

4. Existential Anxiety

Existential anxiety is the tension and fear that occurs when we realize that we live in a false and absurd world and that our beliefs in order and reason are false. In the story the author clearly shows the impact of existential anxiety when the conventional figure of Ziegler faces reality. This is to result in premature death, which "…set all his plans and justified hopes at naught." ( pg.no.)

This moment of existential anxiety begins when the protagonist visits the museum. When he enters he is described in terms of his inauthentic concern for appearance and societal approval. "He was carrying his thin, elegant, red-lacquered walking cane, which lent him dignity and distinction…" ( Page number)

However, he dallies in a section of the museum devoted to alchemy. He nonchalantly eats a pellet apparently made by ancient alchemists and this changes his perception of his world and himself. It is important to note the symbolic reference here to alchemy and the changes in the main character's perception of life. Alchemy is in essence the art and science of inner transformation. It traditionally deals the transmutation or the change of the inner psyche and spirit of the individual from gross or base matter to perfection. This is symbolized by the transmutation of lead to gold. After he swallows the pellet Ziegler undergoes a radical transformation of his perception of reality. This is in effect the transformation from inauthentic to authentic experience.

After he swallows the pellet he visits the zoo and finds that he can understand the animals. However, what they have to say in their commentary on human beings is not very complimentary. When Ziegler ignores a greeting from a chimpanzee the animal retorts, "What's he got to be proud about! The stupid bastard!" ( Page no.)

At first Ziegler becomes extremely confused by what he experiences. His situation can be describes as existential anxiety in that he has to face the fact that animals can talk and, furthermore, that human beings are not special. In the first instance this experience undermines his faith and belief in a rational order of the universe that is part of the conventional scientific worldview. It is an extreme shock to him as he has based his entire identity and sense of self on these assumptions. This can therefore be described as an existential state of anxiety.

Even more alarming for Ziegler is that the animals express no admiration for the human species.

And the elk spoke with his eyes, two big brown eyes. His silent gaze expressed dignity, resignation, sadness, and with regard to the visitor a lofty and solemn contempt, a terrible contempt. In the language of these silent, majestic eyes, Ziegler read, he, with hat and cane, his gold watch and his Sunday suit, was no better than vermin, an absurd and repulsive bug. ( Page no)

In other words, in the face of authentic existence the structure and foundations of Ziegler's reality begins to crumble and he has to confront the uncomfortable fact that he is just another animal on earth with no special qualities. This is too much for his mind to bear and he becomes insane.

5. Conclusion: the meaning of the existential journey.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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