Magic Mountain Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1601 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Geography

Magic Mountain

Thomas Mann's the Magic Mountain is an expansive intellectual play upon the forces of thought imposed upon the people of early twentieth century Europe. Mann satirically places these competing ideologies in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps; he hopes to suggest the sickness of the patients' thoughts, and the detrimental impact they imply for society. In short, Mann expresses the intellectual squalor of the pre-World War I era, that would inevitably lead to violence and destruction. The central protagonist of the tale is a young marine engineer who, taken singularly, is of no particular importance. What makes him -- Hans Castorp -- significant is what he represents for society: he is the embodiment of humanity, caught between the forces poised to crush individual identity and reduce it to mass conformity. All together, these forces of thought, to Mann, are mere derivatives of nature, which act to shape each person's mind into a particular archetype. In this way, the Magic Mountain is a universal warning to the course of history and of the dangerous capacity of unbound rationality.

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To understand the character of Hans Castorp one must understand the numerous external influences upon his mind. This is why it is important for Mann to identify him as an "ordinary young man." (Mann, 3). If Castorp is to have any applicability to modern culture he must be identified as someone just like everyone else, subject to the same pressures, faults, and strengths. At the outset, he is presented as a somewhat simpleminded character but, over the course of the narrative, he will develop into a person unavoidably driven towards the uncertain annihilation of his own creation. Mann keeps Castorp at the center of our attention for nearly the entirety of the story, until he ultimately passes beyond our vision on a battlefield in Flanders in 1914. Essentially, Castorp is ordinary man, and over ten million ordinary men died during the First World War.

Term Paper on Magic Mountain Assignment

Personally, Castorp comes from a reasonably wealthy bourgeoisie family; and although his parents have both died, he remains well positioned and is "obviously on the way to important positions in his life." (Mann, 54). Largely, this is also a consequence of his association with Hamburg -- an emerging port city during the early twentieth century. Symbolically, Hamburg's rising prominence comes at the expense of other, older, and better established cities. Accordingly, Castorp's path to important positions rests on the shoulders of the new age: technologies and industrial might. Additionally, Castorp's occupation makes him poised to build Germany into a naval empire, which is also a drive of the new age. Naval dominance, as seen by many of his time, was the only true way to establish Germany's rightful place within the world.

Mann makes certain that Castorp represents the people of the new age in another way as well. Although his job makes it possible for him to contribute to the destined greatness of Germany, the only real reason he is a marine engineer is because it was simply the easiest course for his life to take. After all, his parents left him with sufficient funding to never need to take a job. So, we are meant to understand Castorp's path in life to be dominated, primarily, by external forces. This illustrates Mann's point that people are not only defined by their own individual drives and actions, but by the movements and events of each person's particular age. Castorp, clearly, is caught up in the "spirit of the new age." (Mann, 38). To Mann, this age "secretly reveals itself as devoid of hope, prospects or purpose," and presents, "no satisfactory answer to the question of what it is all for." (Mann, 50). The result of this broad emptiness of social thought is that it is not only detrimental to the whole of society, but to individuals on a very personal level. Overall, central social frameworks tend to steer people in specific directions; these are directions of thought as well as directions of action. It is Mann's goal to expose Castorp as being fundamentally impelled towards certain ends based upon both of these aspects of the new age.

However, this is not the only possible interpretation of Castorp's relative idleness, or indifference towards work; it can be viewed as a deeply seeded emotional objection to the prevalent ethos of Germany. Perhaps Castorp does not find pleasure in work because the modern world is not spiritually rewarding. Certainly, this idea is not explicitly expressed by Castorp, but is can be viewed as a subconscious reaction to the emptiness that Mann mentions. Accordingly, Castorp's apparent path of least resistance remains something of an emotional search for truth and understanding -- he his waiting for the right external forces to make it clear what it is he was meant to do.

Castorp's cousin, by contrast, has a definitive aim in life: he wants to join the army. When Castrop goes to visit him it is intended to be a mere "holiday escapade" of three weeks (Mann, 203). However, he quickly becomes intoxicated by the numerous intellectual stimuli that inhabit the Mountain. Foremost among these is his physical and mental attraction to Clawdia Chauchart, who seems to be almost the direct opposite of Castorp. Through her, he becomes absolutely fascinated with all forms of knowledge including physics, astronomy, and biology. He also meets Settembrini in the sanatorium; he is a liberal political and philosophical thinker. Settembrini attempts to become Castorp's mentor -- to mold his mind in his own likeness -- but Castorp proves to be too captivated by the many opportunities for learning that surround him.

Despite the objections of Settembrini, Castorp eventually becomes "lost to the world." (Mann, 823). He severs all ties with the outside world in favor of his life on the Mountain. Importantly, his cousin does the exact opposite: he leaves the sanatorium without being discharged, in the hope of finally joining the army. So, even once Castorp's apparent reason for visiting the Mountain has physically vanished, he remains because he feels the sanatorium can help him to cultivate his mind. His other reasonable justification for remaining at the Mountain, Clawdia, leaves even before Joachim. So rationally, Castorp has no obvious cause for confining himself to the sanatorium; he leaps from person to person, from idea to idea, and with each step he is taking himself a bit farther from reality. This is symbolic of the physical detachment Mann perceives modern ideologies have from the truth of existence. Centrally, this is what makes the Mountain "magic": it is fascinating and compelling, but it is fundamentally imaginary. As a result, the inhabitants of the sanatorium are insane to the physical world, but in a magical existence they are more real than the realities they describe.

Castorp is not even able to maintain his ties to Settembrini once his love and his cousin depart. He becomes allied with the "conservative revolutionary" Leo Naphta who competes with Settembrini for Castorp's attention (Mann, 636). Another intellectual pull presents itself in Mynheer Peeperkorn -- Clawdia's new lover upon her return. Although Mynheer is not as articulate as Castorp's other influences, he presents him with yet another possible option for his life; Mynheer is powerful, manly, and energetic. The draw Castorp feels towards each of these characters is equaled only by their wishes to incorporate him into their mentalities. Castorp, like most people, finds himself unable to completely choose between the personalities he finds so well-developed. The fact that each person vies for his allegiance mimics the social and political movements that dominate the external world -- every movement continually seeks new and more members in the attempt to increase the import of their thought and to reaffirm their conclusions as correct.

Yet, Castorp finds himself unable to completely remove himself from physical… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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