The Magic Mountain

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The Magic Mountain




Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain was published in German in 1924 as Der Zauberberg. The work, Mann's third novel, traces the path of Hans Castorp, a typical, educated, well-off youth from Hamburg, Germany, who visits his sick cousin in a sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps. The hospital treats a host of international patients suffering from lung ailments, such as tuberculosis. The doctors espouse the benefits of the high altitude, as well as a health regimen consisting primarily of rest and light exercise. Hans plans a three-week visit, but does not leave the sanatorium for seven years. The characters Hans encounters embody a variety of intellectual schools of thought and social movements, and it is Hans's education through his experiences with such people that forms the basis of the novel's plot. Some of The Magic Mountain was written prior to World War I (1914-1918), while the bulk of it was completed following the war, between 1919 and 1924. While Mann's vision for the novel's scope and intent may have been altered by the effects of war, the author nonetheless writes with a decidedly prewar sensibility. Employing traditional late nineteenth-century realism and enhancing it with both irony and symbolism, Mann captures the milieu of competing philosophies and ideologies that gripped Europe both prior to and following the war. Exposed to individuals who preach the value of humanism, those who attempt to convert Hans to communism, as well as those who symbolize the

temptations of both desire and death, Hans navigates the complexities and dangers of the sanatorium as he attempts to overcome his own fears. (Humanism is a cultural movement that draws on ancient Greek and Roman literary and philosophical sources and focuses on the notion that humans are all born with the potential for good and evil, and that an education in the liberal arts, such as music, art, and literature, should be available to all members of society. Humanists believe in the value and dignity of each individual member of society.) Having severed or lost all ties to his life in the lowlands, Hans is finally moved to leave the mountain only at the onset of the war.

Der Zauberberg was first translated into English by Helen T. Lowe-Porter and published in 1927 as The Magic Mountain. A highly acclaimed modern translation, by John E. Woods, was published in 1995 by Vintage International.


Thomas Mann, born Paul Thomas Mann on June 6, 1875, was the second son of Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann and Julia da Silva-Bruhns. He was born in Lübeck, Germany. His father was a senator and a grain merchant, and provided a privileged upbringing for his children. After his father's death in 1891, Mann remained in Lübeck to complete his schooling while his mother and younger siblings moved to Munich. Upon receiving his diploma in 1894 Mann left to join his family in Munich. Exposed to his mother's artistic and intellectual circle of friends, Mann was inspired to continue the literary dabbling he had begun at school, and published a short story, "Gefallen" ("Fallen") in the periodical Die Gesellschaft in 1894. Mann also secured a position with a fire insurance company. His employment was short-lived. As Mann's literary reputation grew, he left the insurance company to pursue his writing full-time. In 1897, Mann began writing his first novel, Buddenbrooks. It was completed in 1900 and was well received. The book recounts generations of one family's history, including its social and economic rise and fall.

In 1903, Mann was introduced to a wealthy family, the Pringsheims, and their daughter Katia (Katharina). Katia and Mann were married in 1905 and would eventually have six children. With the lavish support of the Pringsheims, Mann and his family enjoyed an upper-class lifestyle in both Munich and Berlin. Mann continued to publish short stories, novellas, and novels for many years. He conceived of the idea of writing Der Zauberberg in 1912, after he accompanied his wife, ill with a lung condition, to a high-altitude luxury sanatorium. He began writing the work in 1915, but was forced by World War I to put the manuscript aside. At the time, Mann considered himself to be a conservative German patriot, while his brother, Heinrich, was a supporter of Western-style democracy. The rift between the brothers inspired Mann to publish a passionately anti-Western volume, which appeared in 1918 as Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (translated in 1983 as Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man).

By the end of the war in 1918, however, Mann began to understand that his traditional values could no longer be supported politically, and he attempted to restructure his thought in order to accept the coming of democracy. In 1922, he announced in a speech his support of German democracy. He finally published Der Zauberberg in 1924. The book was published in English in 1927 as The Magic Mountain. His views on the German bourgeois class and on the humanist tradition are ambiguously presented in the novel, reflecting his own sense of conflict on these matters. Mann's subsequent writing reflects his support of the democratic Weimar Republic that formed in Germany following the war.

In 1929, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. After departing on a lecture tour in 1933, Mann remained in exile. He lived for over a decade in California, where he continued to write prolifically, and became a U.S. citizen in 1944. In 1952, Mann moved to Kilchberg, near Zurich, Switzerland, and published two more novels and a lengthy essay on the eighteenth-century German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller. After a visit to his hometown of Lübeck, Germany, Mann returned to Switzerland. He died of atherosclerosis at a hospital in Zurich on August 12, 1955, at the age of eighty.


Chapter 1

The first chapter of The Magic Mountain opens with protagonist Hans Castorp journeying from his home in Hamburg, Germany, to the town of Davos-Platz in the Swiss Alps. Hans is an "ordinary young man" who has just finished his studies and has an engineering position with a shipbuilding firm awaiting him. At the train station in Davos-Platz, Hans is met by his cousin Joachim Ziemssen, whom Hans finds tanned and healthy-looking. Nevertheless, Hans's cousin informs him that his doctor has recently ordered him to stay at least another six months at the International Sanatorium Berghof, where Hans will be visiting his cousin for three weeks. Once the pair arrives, Joachim shows his cousin to his room. During dinner, Hans begins to feel the effects of the altitude change; he is light-headed, his face feels flushed, and his body feels cold. After meeting Dr. Krokowski, the assistant director, Hans and Joachim return to their rooms for bed.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, Hans's background is described. The reader learns that both of Hans's parents died when he was a young child. Hans then lived with his grandfather for just over one year, at which time the grandfather died of pneumonia. Next, the young Hans moved in with his great uncle, Consul Tienappel. Hans's well-to-do upbringing is depicted, as is Hans's mediocrity as a student. Additionally, Hans found that work "did not agree with him." Having returned home from college, Hans, at the age of twenty-three, is found by his family doctor to be a bit more pale than he should be, even given that he has always been a little anemic. Dr. Heidekind prescribes a drastic "change of air," a retreat to the Alps. This order precipitates Hans's journey to visit his cousin, who, it is noted, is "not ill like Hans Castorp, but really, dangerously ill."

Chapter 3

At the Berghof Sanatorium, Hans awakens feeling groggy, after a night of odd dreams and a morning of overhearing the amorous exploits of the Russian couple in the room next door. His face still feels flushed when he meets his cousin for breakfast. They discuss some of the patients at the Berghof. Following breakfast, Hans is introduced to the director of the Berghof, Dr. Behrens, who, after taking one look at Hans, declares that he is "totally anemic, of course." Behrens goes on to inform Hans that he should stay a while and take up the same routine as Joachim in order to replenish his body's protein stores. The cousins enjoy a walk after breakfast, during which Hans announces that he intends to model Joachim's behavior for the length of his stay, for it can not hurt to build up some protein.

On their walk they encounter another guest, an Italian gentleman named Settembrini, who speaks in an erudite fashion and describes himself as a humanist. Hans is both interested in and annoyed by Settembrini. Back in Joachim's room, when Joachim is taking his temperature, Hans begins to discuss the notion of time in a philosophical manner uncharacteristic of Hans, Joachim observes. The rest of the day is spent with the cousins enjoying the remaining four meals, walking about the grounds, discussing the other patients, and partaking of the "rest cure," which involves reclining on a lounge chair on one's balcony. During dinner Hans spies Madame Chauchat, a Russian woman who intrigues him; he dreams of her later that evening. Hans continues to feel unusual, flushed and chilled, and alternately euphorically enthusiastic and confused. Settembrini advises him to leave the very next day and "forgo the pleasure of growing older here." Dismissing Settembrini's suggestion and attributing his symptoms to the process of acclimatization, Hans remains at the Berghof.

Chapter 4

The fourth chapter begins on Hans's third day, an August day in which it snows. Joachim discusses the fractured nature of time and seasons on the mountain. The cousins set off for town to purchase warm blankets for Hans. On the way back they meet Settembrini, and a philosophical discussion on such topics as illness, reason, and progress ensues. After Settembrini and the cousins separate, Castorp expresses his displeasure with the way Settembrini complains about the cold, about Director Behrens, and about other patients. Joachim defends the Italian, arguing that there is "something decent" about the way Settembrini respects "people in general." A Sunday concert gives Settembrini another opportunity to make his views known. Hans asks if Settembrini enjoys the music, and the Italian replies that he does not, not if he is "ordered to do so," and "not if it's decreed by the day of the week" or "prescribed from on high for reasons of health." He goes on to tease Joachim about the dutiful way he adheres to Behrens's every prescription. Hans and Settembrini then embark on a philosophical analysis of music, and its relation to time. Hans is distracted by the flirtatious young people nearby, and he reflects on the apparent incongruity between illness and desire.


  • Der Zauberberg was released in 1982 by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation. Directed by Hans W. Geissendörfer, it won several German film awards. The DVD is available as part of a boxed set, The Thomas Mann Collection (Buddenbrooks, Doktor Faustus, The Magic Mountain), which was released in 2007 and distributed by Koch Vision.

Later, Hans learns that Dr. Krokowski, whose specialty is psychoanalysis, offers a series of lectures. The morning of the day of the next lecture, Hans embarks on an excursion. Losing himself in the beautiful surroundings, Hans recalls an encounter from his youth with a boy, Pribislav Hippe, whom he adored. This recollection spurs in him the understanding of his attraction to Madame Chauchat, for Chauchat and Hippe have the same eyes, Hans observes. He returns to hear the end of the lecture, in which Dr. Krokowski is discussing the way "unsanctioned love" can resist the suppressive power of chastity and reveal itself in the body as physical illness. Hans becomes distracted by the nearby Madame Chauchat, and he contemplates his interest in a "sick woman." Hans continues to allow this attraction to develop. Madame Clavdia Chauchat is married, but her illness gives her the freedom to travel without her husband. Philosophical discussions with Settembrini continue to arise, on such subjects as patriotism, technology, and human perfection. Hans catches a cold and, following Behrens's examination, is advised to remain at the Berghof, on bed rest.

Chapter 5

Joachim, visiting Hans's bedside, keeps his cousin apprised of events at the Berghof. A week and a half into Hans's bed rest, Settembrini visits, and he and Hans discuss the difficulty people who have been on the mountain for any length of time have upon returning to regular society. Hans continues to indulge his silent infatuation with Clavdia. His X-ray results suggest that an extended stay is necessary, and in communicating this message to his family back home, Hans feels a sense of "freedom."

With Joachim, Hans participates in all the routines and customs of the Berghof. Before long, he admits to himself his love for Clavdia. As time wears on, Settembrini cautions Hans to avoid losing himself in an "alien world." In addition to his continued philosophical discussions with Settembrini, Hans begins to immerse himself in scientific studies. Attempting to distance himself from the carousing of some of the other patients, Hans focuses on the serious side of the Berghof, and begins visiting dying patients. Joachim reluctantly accompanies him. During a Mardi Gras party, Hans converses with Clavdia, having only exchanged polite greetings with her thus far. He passionately proclaims his long-standing love for her. In reply, she expresses surprise at the intensity of his emotions, and tells him that she is to leave the next day. She alludes to the possibility of returning, but is certain that he will be gone by then.

Chapter 6

Six weeks have passed since Clavdia's departure. Settembrini announces that he, too, will be leaving the Berghof, but only to live in town. His illness is terminal; he chooses to spend his final days away from the sanatorium, but still in the Alpine air. Other departures occur as well: some patients leave fully cured, others leave against Behrens's advice, and a few die. Hans now receives psychoanalytic treatments from Dr. Krokowski, and also begins a study of botany. A housemate of Settembrini is introduced to Hans and Joachim, a man by the name of Naphta, who engages Settembrini in heated philosophical debates on a regular basis. They discuss European politics, democracy, the nature of the universe, and class issues. Settembrini warns Hans not to be swayed by Naphta's intellectual trickery.

A year has passed since Hans's arrival at the Berghof. When Joachim announces that he will leave the Berghof against Behrens's orders, Behrens angrily discharges Hans as well, but Hans is determined to remain. Hans's Uncle James Teinappel visits, seeking to bring Hans back with him. When he feels tempted to stay himself, James leaves hastily, to Hans's relief. Spending a great deal of time with Settembrini and Naphta, Hans is exposed to a number of philosophical conflicts in which he occasionally takes part. Feeling restless, Hans takes up skiing, embarks on a reckless expedition, and almost freezes to death. Before Hans reaches the end of his second year on the mountain, Joachim returns. For a time, Joachim and a few other patients in Hans's circle accompany him to visit Settembrini and Naphta, whose endless intellectual struggles continue. Joachim's health begins to worsen dramatically. Soon after he becomes bedridden, he dies.

Chapter 7

The final chapter opens with Clavdia's return. She is not alone, but is traveling with an elderly companion, Mynheer Peeperkorn, who suffers from a tropical fever. The whole of the Berghof, including Hans, is drawn to his compelling personality. Clavdia is astounded that Hans has waited for her. Peeperkorn is introduced to Settembrini and Naphta, but is not interested in their intellectual squabbles. After some time has passed, Clavdia and Hans discuss Peeperkorn, after which they kiss. Hans, who has become a good friend of Peeperkorn, is asked by Peeperkorn about his relationship with Clavdia. Hans is truthful, and the men agree on their mutual friendship, despite their conflict of interest where Clavdia is concerned. Shortly after a group outing, Peeperkorn kills himself. Clavdia and Hans share a tender exchange just prior to Clavdia's departure.

Behrens renews his efforts regarding Hans's treatment, but to no avail, and Hans is reckoning with a feeling of stagnation. New obsessions grip Hans and the Berghof residents. The first is the arrival of a gramophone, which Hans studies with a scientific zeal and enjoys with a passion. The second is the arrival of a young girl, Ellen Brand, who possesses psychic powers, including the apparent ability to communicate with the dead. Still discussing philosophy with Naphta and Settembrini, Hans is present when Naphta, whose health and sanity are deteriorating rapidly, challenges Settembrini to a duel. Settembrini agrees to participate, but when the moment to act arrives, he fires his pistol into the air. Naphta calls his adversary a coward and kills himself. Hans has now been at the Berghof for seven years. He is finally awakened to action by the onset of World War I. He leaves the Berghof, and the narration ends with a scene of Hans in battle.


Herr Albin

Herr Albin is described as a young man with a collection of guns and knives. (Herr is the German equivalent of "Mister," and in The Magic Mountain, characters are typically referred to by their last name, or their title and last name. Usage of first names is reserved for only the closest relationships.) Herr Albin is flirtatious with the young women at the Berghof, and attempts to shock them by talking about how he has considered suicide. Albin provides the service revolvers used in the duel between Naphta and Settembrini, during which Naphta kills himself.

Doctor Behrens

Behrens is a medical doctor and the director of the Berghof Sanatorium, a widower, and a father. He performs lung surgeries and prescribes a variety of medications and treatments for the patients. He seems to have the impression that most people have toxins and latent illness in their bodies and could benefit from an extended stay at his institution. Rarely does the reader learn of patients who leave fully cured. Behrens is perpetually urging patients who are growing restless, like Joachim, to extend their stay until they are fully cured, yet the reader is led to believe that in many cases restoration to full health is highly unlikely. Behrens himself, the reader learns, was once quite ill and presumably has recovered, although his cheeks are described as perpetually purple. He dabbles in oil painting and has painted the portrait of Madame Chauchat, a fact which arouses suspicion in Hans about what else might have happened between the director and Clavdia. Behrens makes lewd comments about women in several instances over the course of the novel, and has a reputation for moodiness.

Ellen Brand

Ellen Brand arrives at the Berghof late in the novel. She is an attractive girl of about nineteen years of age. During a parlour game, the patients discover that Ellen appears to have psychic powers. Dr. Krokowski undertakes a "scientific" analysis of Ellen's telekinetic skills and the other patients convince her to take part in a séance. Ellen seems to be in touch with a spirit by the name of Holger. Holger promises to a group comprised of some of the original séance attendees excluding Hans and led by Dr. Krokowski, that he can bring forth any deceased person the group might like to talk to. Hans is sought out to rejoin the group and he asks Holger, through Ellen, to allow him to speak with his dead cousin Joachim. Hans believes that for a moment Joachim appears.

Hans Castorp

Hans Castorp is the protagonist of The Magic Mountain. Intending to visit his cousin Joachim at the Berghof for three weeks, he ends up staying for seven years. His own family doctor has advised him to spend some time in the mountains, as Hans has always been somewhat anemic and seems worn and tired following his college exams. His difficulty becoming acclimated to the thin mountain air, combined with the fact that the supervising physician at the Berghof, Dr. Behrens, immediately addresses his anemia and advises prolonged rest, all contribute to Hans's suspicion that his health may be worse than he thought. On bed rest after catching a cold, Hans becomes a patient after an evaluation suggests the need for further treatment. In addition to the medical reasons for remaining at the Berghof, Hans is drawn to the pleasant nature of the routines, despite his initial suspicions about the Berghof regimen. Hans is also intrigued by the beautiful Clavdia Chauchat and intellectually stimulated by conversation with Settembrini.

Despite departures and deaths of other patients, and despite the fact that Dr. Behrens angrily discharges him along with Joachim, Hans can muster no interest in leaving. He willingly loses his connections with his family in Germany. Becoming involved with Clavdia and waiting for her return occupy much of Hans's mental time. When Naphta is introduced, Hans receives two philosophical educations, rather than being mentored by Settembrini alone. The discussions Settembrini and Naphta engage in, to which Hans is privy, play a large role in the second half of the novel, and their importance to Hans cannot be underestimated. While he has previously disparaged work in all its forms, the intellectual rigor with which he participates—as active listener and interlocutor—in the Settembrini-Naphta debates suggests Hans's ability to be fully engaged in a pursuit that may not be outwardly productive but that nevertheless contributes to his personal growth. After Clavdia returns, Hans's incentive to remain at the Berghof is intensified, despite the fact that she has not returned alone. Their relationship evolves into something that can be called a friendship, but her departure after Peeperkorn's suicide does not seem to greatly impact Hans. He finds other sources of inspiration, such as the music provided by the new gramophone, and his continued affiliation with Settembrini and Naptha. His unwillingness to return to Germany, then, given his responses to the people and experiences he has been exposed to, becomes less surprising. It is only the beginning of World War I that draws Hans back to Germany.

Hans Lorenz Castorp

Hans Lorenz Castorp, a senator, was Hans's grandfather, with whom Hans lived for approximately one and a half years. The elder Castorp died of pneumonia. The protagonist retains happy memories of the time spent with his grandfather and, at the Berghof, adopts some of his grandfather's mannerisms.

Clavdia Chauchet

Clavdia Chauchet, or Madame Chauchat, as she is known to Hans until he learns her first name, is the object of Hans's attraction, and later, love. Her presence is first made known to him due to her habit of slamming doors, which irritates Hans. Clavdia reminds Hans of a boy (Pribislav Hippe) with whom he was fascinated as a youth, and Hans insists that it is the striking similarity of their slightly slanted, Slavic grayish eyes—Clavdia's and Pribislav's—that has made Clavdia that much more attractive to him. Yet the reader discovers that Clavdia and Pribislav share another similarity: Hans views his desire for them both as unattainable and in some way forbidden, Pribislav due to his gender and Clavdia due to her illness. Clavdia leaves the Berghof the day after Hans professes his love for her. Hans lays bare his feelings for her, kneeling before her, rambling in French. In reply, she calls him a "gallant suitor, one who knows how to woo in a very profound, German fashion," reminds him to return the pencil he has just borrowed, and then leaves.

When the next chapter begins with six weeks having passed, the reader is led to believe that this was the end of the encounter between Clavdia and Hans. However, the narrator mentions that in a period of time directly following that exchange, "an interval we [the narrator] have chosen to pass over in silence," Clavdia provides "direct, spoken assurances" of her return. The implication is that the two shared more of their evening together, perhaps in a romantic encounter in Clavdia's room. When Clavdia does finally return she is not alone. Her traveling companion is Mynheer Peeperkorn, and the couple shares an intimacy that wounds Hans. Nevertheless, Peeperkorn is so charismatic that Hans is soon drawn into his close circle of friends. When discussing her relationship with Peeperkorn with Hans, Clavdia and Hans form a pact of "friendship … for his [Peeperkorn's] sake." They kiss to seal this agreement. Clavdia and Peeperkorn join Hans, Ferdinand Wehsal, and Anton Ferge in their excursions to visit Settembrini and Naphta. Following Peeperkorn's suicide, Clavdia leaves the Berghof.

Fräulein Engelhart

Fräulein Engelhart (Fräulein is the German word for "Miss") is one of the patients who is seated at Hans's table during his time at the Berghof. Hans refers to her as "the seamstress" for some time, because he thinks she looks like one, but later finds out that she is a school teacher. She and Hans gossip about Madame Chauchat. Fräulein Engelhart is Hans's primary source of information about his love interest.

Anton Karlovitch Ferge

Hans first meets the Russian Ferge, who hails from Saint Petersburg, when he begins visiting the very ill and terminal patients at the Berghof. Anton Ferge is repeatedly described as "good-natured." He discusses the ordeal of his surgery, and regales Hans and his cousin with stories from Russia. When Hans is moved to a new table, Ferge is one of the few people whose acquaintance Hans has already made, and he becomes part of Hans's circle of friends.

Doctor Heidekind

Dr. Heidekind is the family doctor of the Tienappel family, and has treated Hans since he was a youth. Dr. Heidekind diagnosed Hans with anemia when Hans was a young child and finds that, as a young man returning from college, Hans seems pale. He prescribes a change in environment, a trip to the mountains. This advice directly influences Hans's decision to visit his cousin in the Alps.

Pribislav Hippe

Pribislav Hippe appears in the novel only through Hans's recollections. Pribislav was Hans's schoolmate, although the two were unacquainted for some time. Hans harbored a fascination with Pribislav that culminated only in a brief exchange. Hans attributes the intensity of his attraction to Clavdia Chaucat to the fact that her eyes remind him of Pribislav's.

Karen Karstedt

An ill young girl who lives in the town near the Berghof, Karen Karstedt is befriended by Hans. He and Joachim accompany her on various excursions before her death.

Doctor Edhin Krokowski

Krokowski is assistant director at the Berghof and a doctor specializing in psychoanalysis. He offers a series of lectures to patients, in which he discusses the relationship between suppressed illicit love and illness. He later develops a professional interest in Ellen Brand, who apparently possesses psychic powers.

Fräulein von Mylendonk

The head nurse at the Berghof, Fräulein von Mylendonk tends to the patients and, when he develops a cold, sells Hans a thermometer, thereby enabling him to partake in one of the habits of the patients, the ritualistic taking of one's temperature (four times a day for seven minutes each time).

Leo Naphta

Naphta is introduced in the second half of the novel as a housemate and intellectual sparring partner of Settembrini. He is elderly, and ill, but mentally spry. Typically taking the opposite philosophical stance from that of his Italian counterpart, Naphta preaches in a fervent, radical manner about the social benefits of a "Christian world citizenship." He argues against patriotism, and condemns Settembrini's humanism, as well as his reverence of art and literature. Naphta expresses hostility toward individuality and progress. Naptha is extremely skilled in logical debate and so maliciously eager to dissemble even the most reasonable of Settembrini's arguments, therefore Settembrini cautions Hans to avoid being swayed by Naphta's extremism. As Naphta's physical and mental health deteriorate, his attacks on Settembrini's views grow more vigorous. When Settembrini responds by slapping Naphta, Naphta challenges Settembrini to a duel. Naphta shoots himself in the head after Settembrini fires his own pistol into the air.

Mynheer Pieter Peeperkorn

Mynheer (the Dutch equivalent of "Mister") Peeperkorn, is an elderly Dutch gentleman who accompanies Clavdia Chauchat upon her return to the Berghof after a prolonged absence. Despite Hans's resentment and sorrow at finding that Clavdia has not returned alone, Hans finds that he, like the other Berghof residents, is drawn to Peeperkorn's larger-than-life personality. As the friendship between the men develops, Peeperkorn hints that his own relationship with Clavdia is more emotional than physical, and upon learning of Hans's love for Clavdia, endorses Hans's pursuit of her. The men express a brotherly affection for one another, making Peeperkorn's suicide all the more shocking for Hans.

Lodovico Settembrini

Settembrini is among the first of the patients Hans meets upon his arrival at the Berghof. The initial description of him conveys a sense of pleasantness and peacefulness. His greeting to Joachim is "precise and melodious," and he strikes "a graceful pose." Hans observes Settembrini's somewhat ill-fitting and threadbare clothing, but at the same time finds that Settembrini's elegant bearing overcomes the shabbiness of his attire. The ensuing conversation reveals Settembrini's eloquence, enthusiasm, and intelligence, although Hans nevertheless refers to the Italian gentleman as "a windbag." Joachim explains to Hans that Settembrini's case is not particularly serious, but stubbornly recurring. A self-described humanist, Settembrini, during various conversations with Hans, extols the virtues of reason, enlightenment, and human progress achieved through education and honest labor. He routinely cautions Hans against losing himself in the isolated world of the Berghof, urging Hans after he has only been there one day to leave at once, since the atmosphere of the Berghof does not appear to be benefiting Hans either physically or mentally. While Hans himself thought just the same thing earlier that day, he dismisses Settembrini's suggestion on this occasion and on the others as well.

Settembrini makes a habit of disparaging the routines and practices of the sanatorium, and seems as eager as Joachim to depart. In the sixth chapter of the novel, Settembrini announces that he is leaving the Berghof. He is not cured but despairs that he ever will be, so he is renting an apartment in the nearby town of Davos. It is here that Settembrini meets Naphta, and the philosophical mentoring of Hans in which Settembrini has engaged takes on a new urgency as Settembrini attempts to protect Hans from Naphta's "intellectual chicanery." In explaining his relationship with Naphta, Settembrini tells Hans that "opinions cannot live unless they have the chance to do battle." Long, heated battles ensue between the two intellectuals. Their disagreements end finally in a duel in which Settembrini refuses to take aim at his long-time adversarial companion. Naphta, however, applies the weapon to his own temple and fires. Following Naphta's suicide, Settembrini's own health declines. Hans visits Settembrini's bedside, and during this time Hans recognizes Settembrini's contradictory nature; he is both a "humanitarian" and "a man of war." When Settembrini finds Hans packing to finally leave the Berghof, after war has broken out, he embraces him with affection and pride.

Frau Karoline Stöher

Frau Stöher is one of the first patients Hans meets. (Frau is the German word for "Mrs.") In describing her, Hans focuses on the woman's rabbit-like teeth, her frequent habit of using the wrong word, and her generally unrefined manners.

Consul Tienappel

Hans's great uncle, Consul Tienappel raises Hans after his grandfather dies and provides the youth with an upper-class upbringing and a college education.

James Tienappel

The son of Consul Tienappel, James is the heir to the family's wine business and is Hans's uncle. After Hans has been at the Berghof for more than a year, James Tienappel arrives at the Berghof intending to convince Hans to return to Hamburg. Hans, who occasionally refers to James as his cousin during this time, remains unresponsive to his uncle's suggestions. Dr. Behrens discusses Hans's case with James, but also suggests that James stay a while to rest, as he is a little anemic. Flustered by this suggestion, and by an apparent attraction to one of the female patients, James leaves abruptly, without giving notice to anyone.

Peter Tienappel

Peter is Consul Tienappel's other son, and being in the navy, was rarely at home while Hans was a youth in his great uncle's house.

Ferdinand Wehsal

Wehsal is a German man around thirty years of age whom Hans notices is infatuated with Madame Chauchat. When Wehsal learns of Hans's encounter with Clavdia on the evening of Mardi Gras, he is both jealous and impressed, and he ingratiates his way into Hans's circle of companions at the Berghof. After Clavdia returns, Wehsal continues to accompany Hans on his various excursions, which sometimes include Clavdia. Wehsal is embittered by her obvious rejection of him.

Joachim Ziemssen

Joachim, Hans's cousin, is a soldier whose military life is suspended due to his illness. Before his departure for the Berghof, Hans believes Joachim to be quite ill, but upon seeing him for the first time, he finds that this cousin appears to be in quite good health. Nevertheless, Dr. Behrens perpetually urges Joachim to remain until he is fully cured. Joachim appears dedicated to the health regimen prescribed by Dr. Behrens, and dutifully follows all the rules of the Berghof with a precision that reflects his military training. Some characters, such as Settembrini, joke with Joachim about this trait, and seem to suggest that, as a military man, Joachim feels duty-bound to follow all the institution's strictures. At the same time, as Joachim's restlessness turns to resolve to return to active military duty back in Germany, the care he takes to follow the prescribed regimen underscores his eagerness to be well enough to leave. Joachim finally departs without Dr. Behrens's full approval, and after several months, he returns, quite ill. He soon is ordered on bed rest, and before long he dies.

Luise Ziemssen

Luise Ziemssen is Joachim's mother and Hans's aunt. She visits Joachim on his deathbed at the Berghof and returns with his body to Germany.



On the mountain where the Berghof Sanatorium is located, time tends to lose its meaning and measurability. Many of the characters in the novel comment on this, and Hans notices it almost immediately, feeling as though he has been there for a long while after only a couple of days. He poses the question "So then, what is time?" when Joachim firsts takes his temperature in front of his cousin, and then begins a ramble in which he questions the very concreteness of time. When it snows in August, Joachim has a turn at discussing the fractured nature of time in the mountains, observing that the seasons "pay no attention to the calendar." Settembrini is acutely aware of this temporal phenomenon and attempts to caution Hans against allowing time to flow by without notice, yelling, "I forbid you to play so fast and loose with time!" when Hans seems unconcerned with time's passing. Hans returns to the question "what is time?" at various points throughout the novel, and does so "only because he could not find any answers." He often forgets how old he is, forgets to mark time in any form whatsoever.

Only new patients mark time in any conventional way, whereas long-term patients tend to praise "unmeasured time and unheeded eternity." Perhaps they do so in order to convince themselves, since they are ill, that they have all the time in the world, enough time to heal and rejoin the real world. Or perhaps they do not mark time's passage in order to conceal the monotony of their lives. Hans's attempt to make the monotony of life palatable to Joachim no longer appeases him; and Joachim finds that "the whole thing is a monstrous, disgusting, filthy mess." He can no longer delude himself into thinking that "timelessness" and "eternity" are anything more than repetition and monotony, for he is mentally ready to return to the world, even though Dr. Behrens is convinced Joachim's body is not. Eventually, but not until much later, Hans will feel that same sense of stagnation. This sense of time away from reality is found to be freeing initially, when patients first arrive at the Berghof, or intermittently, in those patients who find themselves returning repeatedly to the Berghof, but eventually what is at first uplifting is transformed, by the onward, relentless press of time itself, into the overwhelming. The structure of the novel reflects its distortions of time, with the first five chapters devoted to Hans's first year at the Berghof, whereas the last two chapters cover his six remaining years at the sanatorium. The narrator comments on this sense of time's deceleration and acceleration as well, when it is noted at the beginning of Chapter 5 that "good order and the laws of narrative require that our experience of time should seem long or short, should expand or shrink, in the same way it does for the hero."

Illness and Death

In The Magic Mountain, illness and death are depicted alternately as positive and negative forces. Hans has experienced, as an observer, both illness and death from a very early age. His parents died when he was quite young, between the ages of five and seven. His grandfather, with whom Hans lived for just over a year, died of pneumonia, just as Hans's own father had. These early experiences give Hans a curiosity, objectivity, and sense of reverence about illness and death. While he is initially alarmed by the peculiarities of life at the Berghof—the fact that people who seem healthy, like Joachim, are advised to stay many months and even years, or the fact that patients take their temperature for seven minutes at a time, four times a day—Hans is inclined to think of himself as generally unwell. He is acutely aware of his flushed face, and


  • In The Magic Mountain, Hans Castorp extends a three-week visit into a seven-year stay at the Berghof Sanatorium. His desire to do so can either be viewed pejoratively, as a self-indulgent and escapist vacation from reality, or in a positive light, as a healing process the vulnerable young man needs, although perhaps more emotionally than physically. Alternatively, his rather bizarre decision to remain so long on the mountain may be viewed as something other than an actual decision. Rather, the reader may view Hans as essentially brainwashed by the doctors and by many other patients at the Berghof. Which approach to understanding Hans's actions do you find more compelling? Why? Write an essay exploring your views on Hans's decision to remain for so long on the mountain and support your argument with details from the novel.
  • Two of the characters in The Magic Mountain—Settembrini and Naphta—engage in philosophical arguments on topics such as technology, communism, religion, and politics. Critics often identify each character with opposing ideologies, with Settembrini representing the West, conservatism, and humanism, for example, and Naphta representing the East, radicalism, and communism. Working with another student, peruse the philosophical positions that these characters espouse in the novel. Research the ways in which the characters' views are consistent or inconsistent with a particular ideology. For example, Settembrini calls himself a humanist, a man genuinely interested in human integrity and the value and perfection of an individual, and yet he nevertheless concedes the occasional necessity of war to protect the interests of patriotism and nationalism. Prepare a debate to present to your class in which you take the side of one character and your classmate takes the other.
  • Toward the end of The Magic Mountain, Hans becomes obsessed with the new gramophone and spends countless hours listening to records. Those to which he is particularly drawn include Franz Schubert's "Lindenbaum" (one of Schubert's leider, or poetic, romantic German songs), and the operas "Carmen" by Georges Bizet and "Faust" by Charles François. Select one of these musical compositions, listen to a recording of it, and research it. Why might it, in particular, have spoken to Hans? What about the form or lyrical content of the song would he have been drawn to? What hints does the narrator provide as to why Hans enjoys these musical selections? Write an essay on the composer's work in which you also discuss the possible reasons for Hans's interest in the music.
  • In the time period in which The Magic Mountain was written and published, socialism and communism were gaining popularity among oppressed working classes in eastern Europe and in Russia. Research the way such parties organized, recruited members, and attempted to influence politics in the 1920s in Eastern Europe. In what countries were they able to gain a foothold? What conditions precipitated the rise to power of such groups? Write a report that explores the development and influence of socialist and communist parties in eastern Europe in the 1920s.

rather easily convinced to stay, rest, take his temperature, and chart its fluctuations. His actions suggest that he is drawn to illness, as do various comments he makes, as when he states that "illness must ennoble people and make them wise and special." While Settembrini argues against this point, most others at the Berghof seem to embrace their illness as well. Even Joachim, a soldier who wants desperately to rejoin his regiment, takes an odd view of illness and death, not revering them like Hans but noting that illness and the knowledge of one's imminent death give people a certain freedom to do things like "loafing around."

Hans's vaunted view of illness is also tinged with desire. He wonders why he would be attracted to a diseased woman like Clavdia, but it is perhaps because she is ill that he is drawn to her; the illicit nature of such an attraction intensifies Hans's desire for Clavdia. Dr. Krokowski also observes a link between illness and forbidden desire, arguing in his lectures that, while chastity may suppress such desires for a time, they will reappear in the body as physical illness. Hans clings to the nobility of death, to its seriousness, as a counterweight to the salaciousness he observes around him and in him. He immerses himself in this often ignored fact of life at the Berghof—the fact that death pervades the place—by visiting terminally ill patients on their deathbeds, patients who are at the Berghof "not for their own amusement and a loose life, but to die."

Naphta provides another perspective on illness and death, attempting to convince Hans that illness is noble because a sick individual is closer to God; good health masks our inherent human failings and gives us a false and sinful sense of perfection. Hans's fascination with death is what compels him to take part in the séance with Ellen Brand, and to ask the spirit that possesses Ellen to contact the dead Joachim. Hans's response to the ghostly figure of his cousin is one of fear—he runs from the room without speaking to the apparition as the others in the room encourage him to. It is perhaps the first time he has experienced a genuine fear of anything related to death. Mann provides a variety of views on illness and death but suggests that in a place like the Berghof, the emphasis on illness creates a focus on the body itself, and subsequently on its desires and its failings. While Hans's views on the subjects of illness and death remain conflicted through much of the novel, he eventually comes to see existence at the Berghof as "a stagnating hustle-bustle of depravity," a "dead life."

Technology and Science

Mann treats the theme of technology with the same ambiguity with which he addresses the novel's other major themes. Settembrini lauds technology for its role in human progress toward perfection; it occupies the same high place in his philosophy as education. Naphta takes the opposite side of the argument, stating that "unbiased science is a myth." While science provides some hope of cure among Berghof patients, many receive Dr. Behrens's lung operation and still die. Others are told they have no hope of successful treatment at all, and very few patients leave the Berghof fully cured. When Dr. Behrens conceives of a new treatment for Hans, involving vaccinations derived from Hans's own blood, Hans doubts that the treatment will be effective, and indeed it is not. At the same time, the music provided by the gramophone, a technological creation for the sake of entertainment, provides Hans with emotional healing, even though science cannot heal the bodies around him. Near the novel's end, at the onset of World War I, Settembrini touches on the ambiguous value of technology when he speaks of the inventions of gunpowder and the printing press in the same breath, clearly valuing each for the benefits they have brought society, even though the fact that both inventions have detrimental effects is also apparent.


Omniscient Third-Person Point of View

Mann uses an omniscient third-person narrator to tell Hans Castorp's story in The Magic Mountain. In this case, the omniscient (all-knowing) narrator is a persona of the author, but should not be confused with Mann himself. Mann's narrator is aware of the full scope of the story and how it will end, and speaks directly to the reader about how the story is being told, and how the skewed way that the passage of time is narrated in the novel reflects Hans's own perceptions. Despite the narrator's omniscience, he restricts himself to revealing the story's events through Hans's point of view. This technique is referred to as "limited omniscience." The

narrator routinely comments about the nature of time, often at chapter openings. Additionally, the narrator, who refers to himself as "we," comments on Hans's character and intelligence and relates Hans and his experiences to general views on the society and time period of which Hans is representative. The narrator also withholds information from the reader, as when he only hints about what transpires the evening that Hans reveals his love for Clavdia, after the conversation that the narrator does choose to disclose. Another instance of the narrator's subjective narration is his telling us that Hans visits Dr. Krokowski for psychological analysis but not allowing the reader into those sessions. Mann's narrator shields Hans from the reader when, perhaps, Hans is arguably at his most vulnerable. The narrator reveals himself again at the end of the book when he describes Hans on the battlefield. Apparently with some reluctance, the narrator gives us our final glimpse of Hans, and once again suggests Hans's relevance as something greater than a single, ordinary man. The narrator hints that just as Hans transcends his ordinariness, the human spirit might someday transcend the ugliness of war.


In the bildungsroman genre, the protagonist undergoes a transformation in which his personal growth is viewed within the larger context of his society; that is, his journey is aimed at identifying his place within that society. The term bildungsroman came into use during the eighteenth century in Germany. In The Magic Mountain, Hans experiences such a transformation on the mountaintop, at the Berghof. Before he leaves Germany, Hans is unclear about his role in the world, disinterested as he is in work as it relates to being a productive member of German society. After his stay on the mountain, however, he gains perspective through his experiences with a variety of individuals, and returns to Germany at the novel's conclusion, ready to defend his country.


The literary traditions inherited by Mann and his contemporaries included nineteenth-century realism, which stressed capturing in photographic detail the events of daily life. Yet Mann sought to create a new approach. The Magic Mountain is, in many ways, a realist novel. The reader is privy to the minute details of Hans's life on the mountain: what he eats, how often and how well he sleeps, and what the countryside looks like in all seasons. The reader is also exposed to the most intimate details of how various characters move across a room, what their gestures and habits are, how their fingernails are groomed. At the same time, Mann sought to transcend this journalistic approach to novel-writing by infusing his work with symbolism and by revealing the great spiritual and intellectual complexities lying just below the surface of the realistic details. The work also differs from the typical nineteenth-century realist novel in that it often reveals a certain lightness of atmosphere, and a deft and subtle sense of humor. Realistic individuality in The Magic Mountain is suffused with universal significance.


Germany in World War I

Prior to World War I, Germany was an authoritarian empire consisting of twenty-five states ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The government perceived a threat in the Socialist Workers' Party, which later became the Social Democratic Party of Germany. This group advocated the establishment of a socialist order (in which the people as a group or society control property and the distribution of wealth in the community). Additionally, the German government sought to protect itself from possible threats posed by France and Russia, and formed a number of treaties in an effort to avoid attack. One such treaty was with the neighboring Austria-Hungary Empire.


  • 1920s: In post-World War I Germany, the democratic Weimar Republic has just replaced the authoritarian German Empire as a system of government. The political situation remains relatively unstable for many years. Chancellors of the Weimar Republic during this period include Gustav Stresemann, Hans Luther, and Wilhelm Marx.

    Today: Modern Germany is a firmly established democracy, one that has come into being following the instability of the Weimar Republic and the brutality and divisions of Nazi Germany's Third Reich, as well as the severing of Germany into East and West Germany following World War II. Angela Merkel is the first female chancellor of the unified Federal Republic of Germany.

  • 1920s: Tuberculosis, a contagious lung disease, is a widespread health concern throughout Europe and the United States. As depicted in The Magic Mountain, latent forms of the illness do not always result in a full-blown contamination, but when a latent infection becomes active, death is likely. Treatments include exposure to pure, high-altitude mountain air, rest, moderate exercise, and in severe cases, an aggressive operation that involves collapsing the infected lung.

    Today: A greater understanding of tuberculosis exists, and the knowledge that it is caused by bacterial infection has led to the development of a vaccine. Active infections are treated with antibiotics, reducing the number of deaths from the disease. It is still prevalent in developing countries, however, due in part to a resurgence in drug-resistant strains of the bacteria.

  • 1920s: The field of psychoanalysis is emerging, following the publication of Sigmund Freud's first in-depth discussion of the subconscious, The Interpretation of Dreams, in 1899. Writers such as Mann, whose works, including The Magic Mountain, reveal an interest in the human subconscious, are exposed to psychoanalytic notions either through their own research or through German intellectual circles. Mann undertakes a study of the psychoanalyst's ideas and praises Freud's efforts to explicate the human psyche.

    Today: Despite the rejection by many psychologists of the specifics of Freud's theories, his work retains its reputation as groundbreaking, and his approach of talking through a patient's problems is still in use in the early twenty-first century. Just as when psychology was an emergent field, the relationship between the fields of psychology and medicine remains rife with conflict and disagreement.

At the onset of World War I in 1914, when the archduke of the Austria-Hungary Empire was assassinated, a chain reaction of alliances was set into motion. This resulted in two major alliances pitted against one another: the Allied, or Entente Powers, consisting of France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and later Italy and the United States on one side, and Germany and the Austria-Hungary Empire on the other. The war was viewed by ruling Germans as a means of uniting the German people behind the Kaiser and diminishing the threat posed by the Social Democratic Party. Yet casualties were significant and the German people lost their initial enthusiasm and sense of national unity against the allied enemies. By 1918, Germany had signed an armistice agreement (an official truce) with the Allies, and the Kaiser had abdicated. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Borders all over Europe were redrawn as a result, and in Germany, following the 1921 German Revolution, the Weimar Republic—a liberal democracy—had replaced the German Empire. Critics often note the way Mann's political views seem to have evolved in a way that paralleled the changes occurring in Germany. His strong nationalism and anti-Western views reflected prevailing attitudes in what was still the German Empire at the time he began writing The Magic Mountain. In the years following the war, during the time that Mann was completing the novel, the inevitability of a German democracy became evident to Mann, and he publicly championed the new Weimar Republic in his 1922 speech "Von deutscher Republik" ("The German Republic").

The German Bourgeoisie

The prewar German upper middle class, or bourgeoisie, was wealthy, educated, and well-connected. They valued, along with education, a strong work ethic and were largely merchants and professionals—doctors, lawyers, engineers. Mann's own background was a bourgeois one. Until Germany embraced democratic ideals following World War I, the bourgeoisie remained a somewhat elitist sector of society. Hans is identified as bourgeois in The Magic Mountain, and is often shown to be condescending in his disapproval of manners and attire that he deems improper. At the same time the bourgeoisie was associated in many ways with German cultural identity and tradition.

The very nature of the term bourgeois, then, at the time The Magic Mountain was written and later published, remained ambiguous, and is alternately treated in the novel in both a pejorative and positive manner. Likewise, humanism, the belief in human integrity and human progress fostered by education, was a term applied by different groups for various aims. The notion of bourgeois humanism tended to focus on the value of the individual, while Christian humanism and proletariat humanism shaped the ideology for religious or revolutionary social purposes. In his postwar speech in praise of the new Weimar Republic in Germany, Mann made a point of linking German bourgeois humanism with Western democracy, intending to aid in the integration of old and new ideals. Shortly after this speech, The Magic Mountain was published. Mann was attacked from two sides. As Hugh Ridley in The Problematic Bourgeois: Twentieth-Century Criticism on Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain (1994) points out, some critics viewed Mann's portrayal of the bourgeoisie as a betrayal of his roots, while others praised him for highlighting the shortcomings of a self-indulgent culture in need of a new ideology.


A work as lengthy and as philosophically complex as The Magic Mountain inspires a variety of critical approaches. Some scholars focus on the correlation between incidents in the novel and either aspects of Mann's personal life or contemporary political events. Other critics explore the ideological positions embodied by particular characters in the work. Many critics approach their analysis of the text through a study of Hans Castorp's progression from an "ordinary" young man with little interest in things—such as work—which do not advance his own pleasure, to a wiser adult with an understanding of his connection to other individuals and to society in general. The work's contemporary critics focus heavily on the shift in Mann's political views apparent in the novel. Mann's earlier writings are definitively conservative and nationalistic, whereas in The Magic Mountain Mann seems to embrace a more liberal political stance.

In terms of criticism of The Magic Mountain's literary merits rather than its political ideology, the novel was accused of suffering from a perceived lack of depth. Others praised the work for its disdain for cultural decadence. As Hugh Ridley observes in The Problematic Bourgeois: Twentieth-Century Criticism on Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain (1994), the work was also attacked in the 1920s for catering to bourgeois ideology. Irvin Stock, in his 1994 essay "The Magic Mountain" appearing in Ironic out of Love: The Novels of Thomas Mann, examines the novel as an account of Hans Castorp's journey of transformation, his navigation "through the dangers of the magic mountain." The story is ultimately a positive one, Stock contends, noting that "our hero is saved at the end." Likewise, Joseph P. Lawrence, in "Transfiguration in Silence: Hans Castorp's Uncanny Awakening" in A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1999), describes Mann's aims as "life-affirming." Lawrence demonstrates that Mann synthesizes the positive and negative in Hans's act of leaving the insular world of the sanatorium in order to face the horrors of war. Mann, Lawrence insists, portrays reality "simply as it is, beyond all pessimism or optimism." Stephen D. Dowden's approach is similar. In his 1999 introduction to A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Dowden explains that the novel traces Hans's intensifying attraction to death. According to Dowden, Hans must eventually "renounce his dark yearnings and affirm life." The critic further suggests that this rejection of a fascination with death mirrors Mann's own path.

This issue of the relationship between Mann's personal experiences and the completed novel is of primary interest to many scholars. Michael Beddow, in his discussion of The Magic Mountain in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann, frames his discussion of The Magic Mountain's plot and characters with an analysis of the political situation in Germany at the time the novel was written, and focuses on the apparent shift in Mann's political views. Similarly, André von Gronicka, in Thomas Mann: Profile and Perspectives (1970), emphasizes that much of the novel, which takes place prior to World War I, was written following the war, so that Mann's perspective had been colored by the aftereffects of the war on his homeland. Through the radical figure of Naphta, Gronicka maintains, Mann "sounds his warning of an ideological development" that threatened "the very foundations of Western civilization." The political stance of the novel, insist other critics, is often misrepresented because there is, in fact, no definite stance. Mann's message is an ambiguous one. Ridley explains that Mann's criticism in The Magic Mountain of an innocent belief in human progress was similar to his hope that the wounds of war could help regenerate society. These beliefs grew out of Mann's "conservative ideology," Ridley observes, but they possessed "a radicalism that overtook the understanding of many of his contemporaries."

Other critics focus on Mann's analysis of bourgeois character, which Hans is said to represent. He is a comfortably well-off, college-educated, middle-class citizen, and only peripherally concerned, if at all, with anything that does not promote his own self-interest. Georg Lukács, in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, views the novel as a battle between the representatives of humanist democracy (Settembrini) and "pre-Facist ideology" (Naphta) for "the soul of an average German bourgeois." Ridley highlights as well the issues related to the bourgeoisie in The Magic Mountain, stressing that the novel treats the theme ambiguously. Hans may be seen as a betrayer of "the healthy roots of his bourgeois background" or the bourgeois culture of which Hans is a product may be viewed as "essentially decadent and in need of the new values" explored in the novel, Ridley states. The political and ideological messages of the novel remain elusive at best, yet Mann nonetheless compels the reader to explores such issues within the context of Hans's journey.


Catherine Dominic

Dominic is a novelist and a freelance writer and editor. In this essay, she explores Mann's treatment of escapism and freedom in The Magic Mountain, demonstrating that while it is easy to view Hans's seven-year stay at the Berghof Sanatorium as a self-indulgent escape from reality, a closer examination reveals the ways in which Hans's retreat may be viewed as a journey from isolation to connection.

Many critics have examined Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain as a personal journey of growth, transformation, and education for Hans Castorp, that is, as a novel that exemplifies the bildungsroman genre. Hans enters the sanatorium an average German young man of upper bourgeois standing and exits as an adult with a greater understanding of himself and his place in the world in general and in German society in particular; he is called, finally, to be useful and to serve his country, a call he readily answers. On a more personal, less emblematic level, Hans is a character who initially comes across as snobbish and self-involved. Nevertheless, he is increasingly appealing as a character, despite his aloof and egotistical nature, and despite the hypochondria that contributes to his decision to extend his three-week visit to a seven-year stay at the Berghof. In fact, it is because Hans's vulnerabilities become apparent on the mountain that the reader is able to identify what was wrong with him before and follow his progress with interest and affection. A young man lacking the close ties of friends or family, Hans is isolated from society in Hamburg. He fosters this isolation through the way he frowns upon anyone who does not possess the attire or manners he deems appropriate. At the Berghof, in an institution isolated from the real world in terms of time and space, Hans Castorp finds the connections that anchor him to society for the first time.


  • Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann's first novel, traces the rise and fall of a German bourgeois family and touches on some of the same themes Mann addresses in The Magic Mountain, but was written before Mann embraced the notion of a democratic Germany. Originally published in 1901, it is available in a 1994 edition published by Everyman's Library.
  • Death in Venice, the story of a writer seeking spiritual fulfillment in Venice, is a short novel written in 1912 by Mann, just prior to World War I. It is regarded as one of Mann's finest works. Michael Henry Heim's 2004 translation is available through Ecco Press.
  • Three Essays, written by Thomas Mann and translated in 1929 by H. T. Lowe Porter, is a collection of essays on literature, politics, and the occult. A 2005 edition of the essays was published by Kessinger Publications.
  • The Poems of Schiller, published by Dodo Press in 2007, offers a selection of some of the writings by Friedrich Schiller, the eighteenth-century German philosopher, poet, and dramatist whose work influenced Mann throughout his career.
  • Eric D. Weitz's Weimar Germany, published in 2007 by Princeton University Press, explores a variety of aspects of life during the struggling new democracy in Germany following World War I. Weitz discusses developments in architecture, art, theater, and philosophy, for example, but finds that the democratic spirit in Germany at the time was too weak to withstand the rise of radicalism.
  • Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1899, was considered a revolutionary work in terms of its explication of the unconscious workings of the brain. As psychotherapy began to be seen as a valuable tool in treating human ailments of both the physical and mental variety, Freud's works and theories became increasingly well-known and influential, not just among medical professionals but among intellectuals as well. Mann introduces the topic of psychotherapy with the figure of Dr. Krokowski in The Magic Mountain and goes on to explore theories of Freud in later works. A modern edition of Freud's works, The Freud Reader, published by Norton in 1995, and edited by Peter Gay, includes The Interpretation of Dreams as well as his other writings on psychoanalytical, political, and philosophical topics.

The first descriptions of Hans emphasize his privileged upbringing. He is described as "coddled," and his attire is elegant and fashionable. He is attuned to the relationship between clothing and class standing, and rarely fails to comment on the general appearance of the people he encounters. He concedes, for example, upon meeting Dr. Krokowski, that the man looks "distinguished" despite the "dreadful" choice in footwear: wool socks with sandals. He enjoys the rituals and habits of civilized society—regular bathing, fine clothing, superior cigarettes. Hans's great uncle is well-connected enough to have secured an engineering position for Hans with a shipbuilding firm. In discussing Hans's impending employment, the narrator takes the opportunity to expound on the attitudes of German society regarding work. Work "had to be regarded as unconditionally the most estimable thing in the world." Yet Hans finds that he does not love it, however much he respects work. Work is viewed by Hans as "simply something that stood in the way of the unencumbered enjoyment of a Maria Mancini," his favorite cigarette. This disconnection between what his society values and what he personally prefers is at the heart of Hans's sense of isolation. His disdain for individuals who cannot, through their clothing or behavior, uphold his sense of propriety is another symptom of his deeper isolation. Having lost his parents and grandfather at a young age, it is perhaps unsurprising that Hans chooses to isolate himself and maintain an emotional distance from most people. It is noted that he has "few firm roots in life." This ironic understatement does not fully convey Hans's serious lack of meaningful personal relationships.

Perhaps Hans does not notice the absence of such relationships initially, but his craving to become a part of the society at the Berghof demonstrates how much he is at least unconsciously aware of what he lacks. He does not balk at Dr. Behrens's suggestion that he adopt Joachim's health regime, stating that he is happy to do so. When Joachim attempts to explain the freedom of life at the Berghof he informs Hans that "things are serious only down below in real life," and that perhaps Hans will be able to understand that after he has been "up here" a bit longer. The idea of escaping serious things holds a good deal of allure for Hans, for work could easily be placed in the category of "serious things." He discovers that "up here," a day consists largely of eating, napping, taking one's temperature, and strolling the grounds. The initial appeal, then, of the Berghof is of pure escapism, the temptation of leisure and pleasure without responsibility.

In addition to offering this temptation to Hans, the Berghof extends a greater enticement. First, Hans meets Lodovico Settembrini, and while he initially raises an eyebrow at Settembrini's shabby clothing and laughs at his loquaciousness, he is nevertheless intrigued by Settembrini's view of life. Before long, he spies Clavdia Chauchat as well. He observes every reason to dismiss her. He dislikes her manners—she has a habit of slamming doors. Also, her hands are "not refined or well cared for, not in the way the ladies in young Hans Castorp's social circle cared for theirs." Hans's snobbish instinct with both Settembrini and Clavdia is to maintain his social distance and reject both of them on the basis of inelegant attire or unrefined manners. Here, at the Berghof, however, his habit of self-isolation is subverted by his need for human connection. Interestingly, Dr. Behrens explains to Hans that being up on the mountain is eventually restorative in terms of one's health, but oftentimes it is initially conducive in bringing out illness in an individual. In just the same way, Hans's social malady—his isolation—is made painfully apparent on the mountain, made apparent by his yearning toward connection even when habit dictates social distance.

This longing for connection is further emphasized in the resemblance between Clavdia and the childhood object of Hans's adoration, Pribislav Hippe. Hans, in recalling the only verbal exchange he actually had with Pribislav in which he asks the boy if he may borrow a pencil, realizes that Clavdia reminds him of Pribislav, because they have the same eyes. Hans describes these eyes as "Kirghiz." The word refers to an ethnic group originally descended from a Siberian population that later lived in parts of Russia, Turkey, and Asia. The group is noted for possessing a fair complexion and eyes that are greenish/bluish. Hans also describes both Pribislav's and Clavdia's eyes as somewhat slanted. The fact that Pribislav and Clavdia share this particular characteristic is significant in that it emphasizes the differences, the distance, between the two of them and Hans. The eyes are distinctly foreign. Both Pribislav and Clavdia are alien, separate from Hans, and each in their own way, forbidden. Desire for another male or for a woman who is both seriously ill and married, is regarded by Hans, whether unconsciously or consciously, as illicit. Yet the desire remains within Hans, and his buried attraction to Pribislav is resurrected with Clavdia. Hans's powerful recollection of his longing for any sort of exchange with Pribislav elucidates his longing for Clavdia: to share an emotional and physical connection with her would heal the wounds of his past and ease the pain of the loss of the relationship he was never able to cultivate with Pribislav. At the Berghof, such emotional scars are often also linked to physical illness, and Hans believes he sees, in his own X-ray, internal, physical evidence of the pain caused by his failure to cultivate a relationship with Pribislav.

Unfortunately for Hans, he makes the same mistakes with Clavdia as he did with Pribislav long ago. Hans admires her from afar, creating a bond with Clavdia in his mind before he has even spoken to her. He begins to devise situations in which he is positioned to offer Clavdia the briefest of polite greetings. What further cements the association for the reader between Clavdia and Pribislav is the way Hans finally approaches Clavdia in an attempt to have a real conversation with her. It is at the Mardi Gras party, and a parlor game has ensued: blindfolded participants make pencil sketches of pigs. Someone has thrown the last used up bit of pencil into the punch bowl, and the game deteriorates. Hans seeks out Clavdia and asks if he may borrow a pencil. The event mirrors Hans's only encounter with Pribislav in this way, and in that Clavdia leaves the Berghof the next day, although it is unclear what transpired between Hans and Clavdia later in the evening, after he professed his love to her. She has invited him to return the pencil, and the reader learns only after she has been gone six weeks that the two patients spent time together following that exchange and before Hans returned to his room for the evening. Still, she leaves. Later, when Joachim is preparing to leave the Berghof, and after Dr. Behrens has, in an outburst, discharged Hans along with Joachim, Hans finds that he has no interest in departure. In contemplating the matter, Hans thinks, "a departure seemed impossible, because—to put it openly and succinctly—he had to wait for Clavdia Chauchat." When Clavdia does finally return, it is with Mynheer Peeperkorn, who quickly becomes aware of the connection between Clavdia and Hans. Hans verbally acknowledges not only his love for Clavdia, but his friendship as well. After pressing Hans for information, Peeperkorn concludes that Clavdia "followed her feelings," returning to the Berghof because of her relationship with Hans.

Hans fares a little better in cultivating a companionable relationship with Settembrini. They argue, and become angry with one another, as friends do, but their connection is sustained longer than virtually any other in the novel. It becomes clear that a friendship based on warmth and affection develops between them. Their relationship grows into that friendship out of a mentor/student relationship. Settembrini perpetually warns Hans against becoming too entrenched in the Berghof life, hoping that his friend will rejoin life in the flatlands. Hans's growing feelings for Clavdia alarm Settembrini, and his cautioning intensifies, to the point that he leaves the Mardi Gras festivities with angry words directed at Hans. Nevertheless, moments later, when Hans and Clavdia are conversing, Hans tells her that Settembrini "has in fact become something of a friend." When Naphta and Settembrini engage in their arguments, Hans admits that he is often swayed by Naphta's words, but his greater allegiance and affection remains with Settembrini, whom he offers to serve as a "second" in the duel between Settembrini and Naphta, although no one allows this. Settembrini's health worsens following Naphta's death, and Hans keeps him company at his bedside. When Hans finally decides to leave the Berghof to fight in the war, Settembrini bids him the fondest of farewells, embracing him and finally calling him by his first name.

For Hans, then, the allure of the mountain is that there, in the absence of all things familiar to him, he discovers what has been missing from his life for so many years: true, emotional connections to other people. This has broader connotations in terms of the bildungsroman novel, as these connections with other people, people very different from Hans, expose him to a variety of world views. They thereby contribute, it may be argued, to the process of Hans's transformation into something more than he was when he started, although what Hans has become and what he represents at the novel's end remain topics of critical debate. Nevertheless, when seen within the context of the bildungsroman novel, Hans's journey is perceived by the reader in a broad, symbolic way: Hans now represents the good German, who is willing to rejoin society and defend his homeland in the war. Yet Hans's very ability to now form such connections to others is meaningful in a more private, individual way. His relationships with Settembrini and Clavdia yoke him to life, connect him to the world in a new and intimate manner, because now he is connected to other individuals. As Hans tethers himself more and more firmly to life at the Berghof, Settembrini cautions him to not lose himself "in an alien world." Yet this is precisely the cure that Hans finds on the mountain, for he is healed by the connections he cultivates as he loses, or escapes, his former isolated self.

Source: Catherine Dominic, Critical Essay on The Magic Mountain, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.

Malte Herwig

In the following excerpt, Herwig discusses the relationship between myth, science and literature in The Magic Mountain.

… Myth is part of a culture's efforts to retain its knowledge of itself through the exercise of memory. During this century science has come to be widely considered the dominant paradigm for understanding our world. But has it replaced myth altogether? On closer inspection there may be more continuity and similarity between the artistic and scientific world views than narrow-minded champions of either discipline will admit. As a human activity, modern science, too, can be seen as embedded in a framework of recurrent rituals, social practice, and moral perceptions that go beyond the epistemological concerns of a single branch of knowledge. Research into the origin of scientific ideas has suggested that the emergence of modern physical conceptions of nature is in fact founded on ontological arguments, that is a priori determinations as to the nature of the objects under scientific scrutiny (see, for example, Hubner 32-33). For instance, Descartes's distinction between subject and object or Newton's assumption of the existence of an absolute space and time are based on preconceptions about the nature of the physical world that are influenced by the metaphysics of their day—in particular the assumption of a universe governed by mathematical harmony. However, given its irrefutable practical success, it would be wrong to draw the relativistic conclusion that we can dismiss modern science as a new, if different, mythology. Science and literature have aptly been described as "two discourses belonging to one culture though conducted in different languages" (Levine 3)—and, it has to be stressed, with different epistemological authority.

In this paper I do not comment on the validity of scientific truth claims, but focus on the uses and understanding of science as presented in literature. This involves distinguishing among what Max Weber called the "contexts" of scientific inquiry: Among these, only the context of theoretical and analytical reasoning is genuinely "scientific," whereas the contexts of origin (personal interest, funds for a specific programme, political motives for research into a certain area) and of application (what to do with data, tools, and processes) are, as many scientists readily admit, fundamentally personal stages of scientific practice. Consequently, those areas are of most interest to cultural critics, and we can gain new insights into the shape and process of human understanding when we compare the narrative strategies and epistemological patterns of popular scientific texts with those of fictional texts and myths as well as look at the world views suggested by them….

Thomas Mann's novels are a good example of the reinterpretation of mythical perceptions by means of modern science because they display the continuing presence of affective powers such as awe, delight, or terror in our responses to the results of scientific progress. In a eulogy on Sigmund Freud's eightieth birthday Mann acknowledged the interdependence of science as represented by psychoanalysis and myth as told in literature: He "polemically celebrates" Freud by blaming him for disrespecting philosophy as not an exact science….

The thrust of Mann's argument is clear: literature is capable of perpetuating the emotional core of myth's spiritual power. In volume two of his monumental Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, Ernst Cassirer argues that this power originates from a mode of consciousness that is radically different from the familiar notions of rational inference and material causality because it sees inherent magical qualities in the natural world. In Der Zauberberg (1924) we have an interesting realization of this understanding. In the foreword the author presents himself as the "raunender Beschworer des Imperfekts" and professes to tell a story that "ist sehr lange her, sie ist sozusagen schon ganz mit historischem Edelrost uberzogen und unbedingt in der Zeitform der tiefsten Vergangenheit vorzutragen." This canonical formula of legendmaking makes it all the more interesting that detailed and mostly accurate science from such diverse disciplines as cell biology, physiology, anatomy, and astrophysics is presented in the complex mythological framework of the novel. During Hans Castorp's adventures in the Swiss mountain sanatorium, the reader is frequently reminded of ancient and modern myths, such as the world of Hades with its resident personnel such as, for instance, Minos and Rhadamantys, visitors to the underworld such as Odysseus and Orpheus, and Hermes as the unofficial patron of the remote and "hermetisch" place. Moreover, there are allusions to biblical stories such as those of Job, Lazarus, Lilith, and the Fall, to Dante's Inferno, the signs of the zodiac, and medieval notions of the devil. Whereas criticism has devoted a great deal of attention to these mythologies, the role of modern science in Der Zauberberg has been insufficiently recognized and sometimes even dismissed as a mere property of realistic representation (e.g. Heftrich, Koopmann). In fact, scientific theories form a part of the novel's mythopoeic equipment, as twentieth-century biology and physics are interwoven with the mythical stories of the past in an attempt to harmonize the two apparently disparate worlds of scientific rationality and mythical narrative. In the following I will concentrate on two examples: the peculiar scientific representation of the body; and x-rays and notions of the underworld.

Thomas Mann drew on state-of-the-art scientific textbooks in physiology and biology in 1920 while he was writing the two chapters "Humaniora" and "Forschungen," which deal with the protagonist's own researches into the science of the human body and the origin of life—the "what's it all about" question again. A comparison of the novel with these scientific sources shows that the author sometimes copied whole phrases and integrated them into the narrative of erotic love, illness, and degeneration that forms the novel's core. Thus, the text is cluttered with terms like "spermatozoon," "fructification," "bioblasts," and "biophores," and the narratives of cellular pathology and microorganisms are related to the events on the magic mountain. The scientific text forms the basis on which, by means of analogy and devices such as animism, personification, and frequent change of perspective, the old mythic themes of life, love, and death are actualized.

Just as in Whitehead's example of the Royal Society, the narrator here invokes these mythic realities in a ritual incantation. The scientific explanations of the origin of life and the process of evolution are interspersed with the recurring question "Was war das Leben?" and its immediate answer, "Niemand wu[Beta]te es." The shortcomings of the well-presented biological theories of life are implicitly exposed by the frequent mention of the word "Wunder," and the protagonist has to draw the conclusion that this kind of scientific research is a result of the hypertrophied consciousness that man has acquired in the course of evolution…. Thus, rational investigation of nature cannot yield final answers to the fundamental questions about life, and the novel makes clear that it is necessary to combine scientific research with spiritual experience to achieve a proper understanding of life. Consequently, the protagonist not only reads about, but experiences his research: When he zooms into the body to look at the life of cells and embryos, this is mirrored in the embryonic posture in which he reads.

If myths are about archetypes, then here is one: In his search for origins, Castorp finally encounters the double-walled stage of the embryo…. The scientific reference to Ernst Haeckel's "Gastraa-Theorie" is almost instantly undermined by Castorp's eroticizing conclusion about the gastrula's relation to another "fleischgetragene Schonheit." Needless to say, the gastrula is later related to Castorp's temptress Clawdia Chauchat whom he encounters in the microcosm of the body. After he has mentally dissected the human body into its most minute constituents, the body parts and microorganisms blend together again into a vision of the "Bild des Lebens"—which uncannily resembles Chauchat and embraces and kisses him. Thus, Castorp's scientifically enhanced invocation of the mystery of life is answered by the apparition of the goddess.

Even more striking is the interaction of myth and science in the x-ray scene. In the chapter "Mein Gott, ich sehe!" Hans Castorp and his cousin undergo an x-ray examination. Again, Mann personally researched in laboratories in Munich to be able to give a realistic background to the scene. However, the x-ray laboratory is presented as a center of cult worship: Its windows are covered with black cloth, and glass slides of x-rays are set into the wall—like church windows…. The actual examination resembles a necromantic ritual, and ceremonial rules have to be observed: The Hofrat, the "Meister," turns off the red light because "den hellen Tag mit seinen fidelen Bildern mussen wir uns erst mal aus dem Sinn schlagen […]. Erst mussen wir uns mal die Augen mit Finsternis waschen, um so was zu sehen," and he adds that a bit of devotion is only appropriate. Enormous forces are unleashed during the conjuring…. This is a fairly accurate description of early x-ray examinations, but it is seen through mythicizing eyes. It is a good example of what has been called Mann's technique of "maskenhafter Realismus" (Kristiansen 827), which combines a convincing realistic surface with an underlying allegorical level. The author puts on a mask of outer scientific realism under which he then conjures up his innermost feelings of anxiety and hope. The mythical heritage is revived by the practice of modern science, with associations of the realm of shades, Plato's analogy of the cave, and Orpheus's visit to the underworld.

When Castorp finally sees his cousin's "Grabesgestalt und Totenbein […] dies kahle Gerust und spindeldurre Memento" on the screen, he goes into ecstasies and cries "Jawohl, jawohl, ich sehe! […] Mein Gott, ich sehe!" He then looks at his own hand under the "magische Fenster" of the screen and has a vision of prophetic insight…. With hindsight the x-ray examination is transformed into a ritual of initiation and insight. It is also abused by Castorp for his dangerous adoration of Clawdia when he puts her x-ray on a little easel on his chest of drawers to worship her. Her sick and sweet beauty is aptly fixed…. In ancient times the ghosts of the dead were conceived as incorporeal images of their former selves, without mind or consciousness—Clawdia's headless x-ray is probably the closest we can get to this. Thus, the author exploits the cultural resonance of modern x-ray technology and presents its products as modern artifacts, which are here being used in rituals whose tradition goes back to Greek mythology.

Indeed, the x-ray serves a purpose similar to that of ancient myth. It becomes the object of contemplation on the nature of life when Castorp muses about humankind's dual nature as body and spirit. Through its associations with Hades it also relates to mythical ideas of origin and end. When he notices that Castorp is carrying his x-ray around in a wallet Settembrini mocks him and compares it to a "Pa[Beta]." As such it is a document of identity and also testifies that the holder is able to cross the border between life and death, world and underworld. Castorp is consequently warned by Settembrini: "Gotter und Sterbliche haben zuweilen das Schattenreich besucht und den Ruckweg gefunden. Abet die Unterirdischen wissen, da[Beta], wer von den Fruchten ihres Reiches kostet, ihnen verfallen bleibt."

It is doubtful if Thomas Mann ever read Wilhelm Rontgen's Vorlaufige Mittheilung of 1895—the text that soon became a classic of scientific literature. However, it is fascinating to contemplate the ease with which the properties of Rontgen's text would have put themselves at the author's disposal: the hermetic vacuum-tube, which is covered with black cardboard and put in a completely darkened room, the fluorescence and illumination, Rontgen's playful experimenting with a set of cards, a book, a compass, a set of weights, and so on (Settembrini calls the x-ray apparatus a "Spielzeug"); and the end product: the "Schattenphotographie" of bones laid bare of flesh. In the discourse of the novel, Mann examines the relation between technological evolution and philosophical heritage to redefine man's position in a universe that has become more and more complex. For Mann, this position can only become accessible through a combination of rational inquiry and spiritual experience—a reconciliation of the material constraints and spiritual needs of human life.

Scientific advances have brought about a redefinition of our view of nature. A look at the modern literature dealing with these advances suggests that our everyday understanding of the meaning of science is still based to a large extent on belief. Whereas our ancestors tried to placate the gods with their rituals, we nowadays hope to gain medical redemption from the modern authorities on life and death by subjecting ourselves to the latest promises of science and technology. Often the value of these processes is, indeed, not entirely clear, and we choose to believe or not to believe in them. In the case of cloning, for instance, ethical decisions have to be made about which procedures should be implemented and which are unethical in our eye—decisions that cannot be made entirely on scientific grounds. Meaning, the aim of myths, cannot be derived from science itself without being reductionistic and therefore, by implication, meaningless. Consequently, even the latest inventions and theories quickly become appropriated by our storytelling impulse and are woven into traditional or, occasionally, new narratives. Here, I think, lies an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration between science and the humanities: to see that they cannot replace each other but that one discipline complements the other in our search for answers to the question, "What's it all about?" In this respect, the novel is a particularly important contribution from the humanities, as it is constantly engaged in the updating of mythology and in putting the sciences in a human perspective.

Source: Malte Herwig, "Magic Science on the Mountain: Science and Myth in Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg," in Germanic Review, Vol. 74, No. 2, Spring 1999, p. 146.

D. H. Stewart

In the following essay, Stewart discusses the two characters who "survive Mann's irony unscathed," arguing that they represent Mann's respect for "an older, civilized Germany."

Rereading Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924), one discovers a peculiarity about the book that was not notable years ago. Among the large dramatis personae, only two important characters escape Mann's derision. Everyone else he unmasks mercilessly. All are poster-bourgeoisie who have money enough to enjoy the "danse macabre in a hotel deluxe," as the Berghof sanatorium has been called. Overfed, oversexed, and overmedicated, the characters fritter away their diseased lives, immune to cares, comfortably consuming the surplus wealth that the busy world generates. They seem to crowd the novel's landscape and justify the conclusion that Mann wrote a valediction for the German and European middle class. Mann himself ratified this conclusion years after completing the novel and after fleeing Nazi Germany when he said, "The Magic Mountain became a swan song for that form of existence. Perhaps it is a general rule that epics descriptive of some particular phase of life tend to appear as it nears its end" (Lowe-Porter 721).

Such a conclusion was plausible when the Soviet system seemed destined to expand and the German middle class (indeed, Germans of every class) stood convicted of collusion with Nazis. Such a conclusion may turn out to be correct in the future, but today one may ask whether Mann mistook a gravely sick society for one terminally ill. Could the "swan song" have been an alarm bell rather than a death knell?

The two characters who survive Mann's irony unscathed are the hero's grandfather, Hans Lorenz Castorp, and his cousin, Joachim Ziemssen. One is dead before the novel begins; the other before it ends. Neither is as prominent as the hero's three "tutors" who vie for his allegiance: the Italian humanist, Settembrini; the Jewish-Jesuit-Marxist, Naphta; the Dutch Vitalist, Peeperkorn[. Nor] do they affect the hero as powerfully as the Russian femme fatale, Clavdia Chauchat. These four major figures are non-German. All four dramatize contradictions in the ideologies they embody. This leaves the hero, the spoiled child of middle class culture, "life's delicate (or problem) child" (Lowe-Porter 308; Wood 303) as Mann calls him, in a quandary. Having learned valuable lessons from each of the four, he turns for role models to his grandfather and cousin.

The hero is his grandfather's namesake. His speech retains traces of the grandfather's Plattdeutsch. He imitates the old man's mannerism of resting his chin on his collar. When he compares Settembrini's grandfather, an early freedom fighter against despotism, with his own, the latter requires no apology. Rooted in Hanseatic Germany, old Hans combines patrician merchant traditions, conscientious citizenship, and Lutheran piety. He does not resemble the "progressive" bourgeois generation that replaced him and flocked to imperial Bismarck—for example, young Hans's uncle James Tienappel. Grandfather Hans was "a tree hard to fell," a man "rooted in life" (Woods 19), still standing in the 1880s and opposed to Germany's rush into modernity.

Young cousin Joachim belongs to the hero's own generation yet upholds old German traditions. Quiet and brave, he is a latter-day warrior, the kind of German without Junker dueling scars but with a profound sense of duty and loyalty. There is nothing glamorous about him. He would make a formidable army officer but hardly the Blond Beast whom some readers feared. He is unlike his wine merchant family with their "progressive" views. The sanatorium's head physician calls him a "man," the highest compliment granted any character in the novel. When the martial inner fire consumes him, surviving patients agree that Lieutenant Ziemssen was "the best of the lot" (Lowe-Porter 502; Woods 492). One is not surprised when Settembrini addresses the hero by his cousin's name during their last farewell.

Because Mann never ridicules them, the grandfather and cousin form an unobtrusive moral standard for the novel. Both belong to the past but live on in the hero, who imitates their obstinacy and thus suggests the perseverance of their virtues, if, of course, he lives through the Great War.

Twentieth-century critics overlooked this interpretation of The Magic Mountain as Mann himself did and for the same reason. The novel is an encyclopedia of ideological controversy during a time when antibourgeois sentiment was so strong that even the shrewdest observers underestimated middle-class resilience and capitalism's characteristic restructuring of social order.

Mann ignored this characteristic when he wrote the novel. He was, however, skeptical of all political-economic nostrums. Neither Weimar republicans nor social democratic revolutionaries suited him. Many conservative values expressed in Reflections of a Non-Political Man, which he wrote before The Magic Mountain, continue to echo. He respected an older, civilized Germany, the land of burghers and Frederick the Great. In a muted but audible voice, that Germany asks to be heard.

Source: D. H. Stewart, "Mann's The Magic Mountain," in Explicator, Vol. 57, No. 4, Summer 1999, p. 221.

Johannes A. Gaertner

In the following excerpt, Gaertner identifies dialectical aspects of The Magic Mountain.

The dialectic character of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is obvious. It appears in the discussion between Naphta and Settembrini, in the contrast between "them down there" and "us up here," between Clawdia Chauchat, the Russian lady, and Hans Castorp, the gentleman from Hamburg, her unlikely lover, between Joachim Ziemssen's military and Hans Castorp's civilian attitudes, between personality and intelligence as in the encounter between Peeperkorn and Settembrini, to name only a few. Hans Castorp even dreams dialectically, contrasting the idyllic behavior of ideal mankind with the savagery of cannibalism….

All major persons in The Magic Mountain appear dialectically bracketed; they do not live so much by themselves as in contrast to and in confrontation with their partner or partners: Hans Castorp and Joachim Ziemssen, Naphta and Settembrini, Hofrat Behrens and Dr. Krokowski, Clawdia and Hans Castorp, Clawdia and Peeperkorn, Joachim and Marusja, and so on. Until the very end of the story all persons define themselves or are defined by others. Differences between persons and situations are formulated with precision and obvious relish. Now, definition and self-definition are dialectical processes: one thing, one situation, one person is set off against one, several, or all other things, situations, or persons. Hans Castorp for instance says or thinks (against Joachim): "I, as a civilian …," or (against Settembrini): "I, as an engineer without literary ambitions …," or (against Peeperkorn): "I, as a young man without any particular personality …" indeed self-definition and characterization are frequently used as leitmotifs: Ferge always insists that all higher endeavors and ideas are not his forte; Mrs. Stöhr utters malapropisms, always does and says the wrong, the tactless, the vulgar thing; Dr. Krokowski usually is disturbingly hearty and masculine; no occasion is missed in which Joachim would not say or do the thing that clearly marks him as the typical officer candidate of his time. In fact, persons are sometimes so over-characterized that they appear as caricatures. Surely Mrs. Stöhr must have had days on which she did not utter any malapropisms, surely Joachim must have been sometimes a bit more or a bit less than the perfect officer candidate. Yet, though Thomas Mann is not afraid to characterize a person by direct description and biography (Naphta, Hans Castorp, Elly Brand), his skill as a story teller allows him to provide continually situations and conversations, in which the persons are dialectically presented, i.e., in contrast to another group or person: Naphta and Settembrini confront each other, Clawdia and Hans Castorp, Hans Castorp and Joachim Ziemssen, Clawdia and Hans Castorp confront Mynheer Peeperkorn in absentia, Mynheer Peeperkorn and Hans Castorp confront Clawdia in absentia, Mynheer Peeperkorn confronts the entire group as uncrowned king, as does in another sense Mrs. Stöhr as the hopelessly lowest on the scale of education and good manners. Examples of confrontation are too numerous and too obvious to be cited and elaborated any further.

Yet, however fascinating the definition, self-definition and characterization of persons is, however dramatic their interaction, Thomas Mann makes it clear that his interest (and ours, of course) is not only one of clinical observation, as we find it for instance in Proust or Zola, but that it is evaluating, interpreting, and symbolizing. These sharply defined figures, constantly characterized afresh and constantly dialectically engaged, represent more than themselves. They stand for certain philosophies, religions, nationalities, policies, existential attitudes, social mores, ways of thinking and living. Clawdia, for instance, is not only portrayed as a lovely and alluring woman: she is also a Russian, identified with a Slavic laissez-faire attitude and a moral generosity completely antithetical to that of the correct North German ladies of Hans Castorp's acquaintance, she is vaguely anarchistic, she lives a casual and improper life (well contrasting with Hans Castorp's reverence for the past, for order, propriety and civilized behavior)—in fact: she represents the vague and formless, "human" and organic East against the orderly, "inhuman," technical and directed West, barbarism against civilization, feeling and caprice against plan and foresight, instinct against reason, "freedom" against "convention." What characterizes Clawdia has not to be inferred, but is openly said and declared by Settembrini, by Hans Castorp, by Mynheer Peeperkorn, by Thomas Mann as the narrator, even by Clawdia herself, and it is generally declared and defined in dialectical situations. Clawdia (like any other person in The Magic Mountain) is not so much defined as what she is by herself, but by what she is in contrast to somebody else—in her case, of course, mostly as what she is in contrast to Hans Castorp. Symbolization is usually a dialectical process in The Magic Mountain. As such it implies an enlargement of the dialectical process: not only two persons confront each other, but, as it were, two philosophies, two nationalities, two ways of living, or whatever. The persons become transparent, and what we perceive through them are ideas. Beyond the personal accidents and often trifling happenings, we participate in the struggle of ideas, we become aware of ultimate questions, we get involved in existential decisions which are as actual today as they were before 1914.

Let us consider Settembrini in this connection. What does he stand for? What does he represent? Obviously: enlightenment, progress, Western civilization as derived from classical antiquity, a Latin attitude, Mediterranean elegance, mature thought, literature as political and philosophical engagement, Masonic fraternalism, internationalism—to name only a few of the tenets in his secular faith. And how do we come to know his Weltanschauung so intimately? By continuous dialectical friction between him and Hans Castorp or Naphta. In fact, Naphta is so much the antithesis to Settembrini that all of Thomas Mann's skill is needed not to let him appear as antithetically contrived.

Not all the major personages in The Magic Mountain are necessarily to be understood symbolically—Hofrat Behrens may or may not represent the materialistic science of the 19th century and his assistant, Dr. Krokowski, may or may not represent the 20th century with its interest in psychoanalysis and parapsychology, both of which transcend Hofrat Behrens' solid materialism. Only Hans Castorp, Joachim Ziemssen, Clawdia, Peeperkorn, Naphta, and Settembrini are clear symbols, i.e. carriers and embodiments of certain suprapersonal attitudes, philosophies, national characters, etc., though Mann's sharp and careful characterization of all persons places them into larger contexts, makes them, as we said, transparent, even such comparatively minor characters as Joachim's mother or Hans Castorp's grandfather.

Nowhere can Mann's ironical skepticism be better observed than in those instances where dialectical exacerbation leads to paradoxical formulations. A good example of paradox is the contrast between "down there" and "up here." "Down there" one is healthy, normal, working, naive, "up here" one is sick, artificial, exceptional, idle, and certainly not naive. Yet—the plains are not healthy, they send a goodly contingent of patients into the mountains each year, while the "Berghof" after all effects a number of cures. This first paradox is topped by a second one. The Sanatorium is perhaps not such a good place after all—the air is not only good for healing the disease, it is also good for aggravating it, "bringing it out," so that in some cases, presumably in Hans Castorp's own case, it would really be better if he followed Settembrini's advice and left for the plains. Or another paradox: the plains admittedly stand for normalcy. Yet life in the "Berghof," however artificial, absurdly regimented, and strange it may seem to the newcomer, becomes in a few weeks so "normal" that life in the plains becomes by comparison "unnormal," unreal, unthinkable. Hans Castorp, and certainly some others, remain "up here" simply because life "up here" has acquired such a degree of persuasive normalcy that they can no longer envisage the by now strange and unfamiliar life "down there."

Paradox as perfect reversal occurs in one dialog between Settembrini and Naphta, where pacific Settembrini advocates war against Austria and bloodthirsty Naphta ridicules the idea of silly bourgeois wars. Or take the paradoxical contradiction between Naphta's ascetic ideals and his luxurious habitation, between Settembrini's epicurean attitudes and his actual poverty and enforced asceticism. We find paradox in Dr. Krokowski's hearty manner and his ambiguous investigations, or in the majestic and compelling force of Mynheer Peeperkorn's utterances and their actual lack of intellectual substance.

Thomas Mann delights in paradoxes. Even where the paradoxes are not always spelled out, he loves to add question marks to dialectic statements by a certain "softening" of a previously announced position, by ambiguity. Thus Hofrat Behrens may appear as a scientific philistine, but he also paints—the picture of his clearly defined medical and scientific personality acquires thereby a certain correction. Though Hofrat Behrens appears as the nothing-but-physician and as such cannot be in love with a female patient, the way in which he portrays Clawdia (and the fact that he does it at all) betrays a certain non-medical interest. Again a question mark, an ambiguity. Hans Castorp's own personality is full of contradictions—he has an all-consuming passion for Clawdia, yet he is also phlegmatic about it. He is not a deep thinker, yet he is capable of sudden extraordinary insights, brilliant remarks, and sustained study. He might be a completely civilian personality, yet in some ways he is more daring and more dutiful than Joachim, the professional soldier. Though Joachim is obsessed with his concept of "duty," it is actually Hans Castorp who sticks to his duty, namely that of getting well and remaining in the Sanatorium. Yet in so doing he is again less dutiful than Joachim, because the fulfillment of that particular "duty" coincides with his own inclinations, he likes it "up here." Poor Joachim, indeed, is in a completely paradoxical, one might say Kierkegaardian, situation. Whether he stays or leaves, he does the right and the wrong thing in either case. A persistent working out of dialectical positions leads to greater clarity, but not to greater simplicity. On the contrary, the more we refine the dialectical process, the nearer we seem to get to logical impasses, to antinomies which demand an existential decision, i.e. one based on our being, not on our reasoning.

A special form of the paradox appears in cancellation, a process in which a dialectical position is refuted but not transcended. Two examples come to mind: first, of course, the see-saw discussions between Naphta and Settembrini. Whatever one of the disputants says is cancelled by the reply of his adversary, though in due course this reply is cancelled by refutation through the first speaker. Second: in the scene where Settembrini for the first time earnestly implores his young friend to leave the "Berghof" Hans Castorp cancels Settembrini's forceful arguments and imprecations by the simple question: "Why don't you leave yourself?"

Closely connected with the phenomena of paradox, ambiguity, and cancellation is that dialectical position, described in the French saying les extrèmes se touchent, which is here called "union of opposites." Whenever that union of opposites occurs, Thomas Mann expresses an important message and expresses it directly. A good example occurs in the snow dream. First we have the contrast between discomfort and incipient fear of Hans Castorp awake, then the feeling of extraordinary well-being and security of Hans Castorp asleep. In the dream itself another such union occurs. While an ideal mankind enjoys its pastoral existence, two children are devoured by witches in the temple. This is one of those rare instances where Mann pronounces a philosophical insight, a moral command directly: for the sake of love and kindness we must not give death any power over our thoughts. The same union of opposites, again coupled with a message, concludes the work. While Hans Castorp stumbles over a muddy field in a hail of artillery shells, he sings Schubert's beautiful "Am Brunnen vor dem Tore …"; thus on one side: mud, death, noise and war, on the other: purity, music, tenderness and beauty. Love then is mentioned as the ultimate hope of mankind, the transcending element.

The classic Hegelian scheme of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis on a higher level does not occur in The Magic Mountain. The transcendence of dialectical positions is never a synthesis, but always a confrontation with a radically different position. Thus the arguments between Naphta and Settembrini are transcended at one point. How? Through the force of Mynheer Peeperkorn's personality. This new factor—personality as existential size—lets all their discussions and quarrels appear as trifling, irrelevant, unimportant, though it is expressly stated that Mynheer Peeperkorn, albeit shrewd and perceptive, is by no means an intellectual and that he would be unable in a verbal contest to refute either of the adversaries.

Problems, said Count Keyserling, are never solved, they disappear; they are forgotten, because other more urgent problems supersede them. How is the dialectic between "them down there" and "us up here" transcended? Through the War. Hans Castorp leaves life in the plains, as he knew it, and life in the Sanatorium, as he experienced it. Suddenly neither life is important any more, nor indeed feasible. Sometimes it is death which solves all dialectical problems, as in the cases of Naphta, Joachim, and Mynheer Peeperkorn. Sometimes a false transcendence occurs, false, because it is too brief, too inconsequential, or simply frustrated. In a brief encounter of love between Hans Castorp and Clawdia abysms of difference are bridged during one brief night, but this love does not lead anywhere; after Mynheer Peeperkorn's death the two have again become strangers who say "Sie" to each other and between whom a non-compromising kiss is possible. There is Hans Castorp's experiment with occultism—it ends in panic flight. There is his flight into music—which becomes another opiate. There is one wonderful and moving dream in which suddenly deep and inspiring insights are revealed to Hans Castorp—they are forgotten by the time he sits down to dinner a few hours later. It is only in two border situations—dream and approaching death on the battlefield—that Thomas Mann speaks openly of that universal love which would transcend all dialectical positions. He utters here, of course, the same thought that Dante proclaimed in another context.

But not only in the rare instances of transcendence does Thomas Mann say something impressively: he does so much more frequently in a dialectical position which—for want of a better term—might be called "transposition," i.e. transposition in a musical sense. Such transposition is most magnificently achieved in the closing sentences of the first volume: "N'oubliez pas de me rendre mon crayon." What is transposed here (incidentally also literally transposed into another language) is, of course, Pribislaw Hippe's remark "Don't forget to return my pencil." But how magnificently and profoundly has the meaning been changed! It is no longer the clue to an every-day situation of … infatuation between two youngsters of more or less equal age and status "in the plains," but one of heterosexual love between two profoundly different, mature persons, both patients in a sanatorium, both living in a world which is twice removed from the normal, once through the physical location in the "Berghof" (the mountain court) as such and twice through the special carnival license. Since the structure of The Magic Mountain is one in which events lead from Hans Castorp's departure from the plains to the fulfillment of his love for Clawdia in the first volume, and from that point on backwards to the estrangement from Clawdia and his return to the plains, it is, as it were, symmetrically necessary that Hans Castorp should meet Joachim again before he leaves the "Berghof." He does so, but in a transposition of a particularly strange and powerful kind, namely in a spiritualist seéance, where Joachim, who could not be a soldier while alive, is now a soldier but dead.

Transposition is not so much an antithesis as a repetition, but a repetition in another key. Another transposition occurs in Settembrini's last words where he, like Joachim before him in another leave-taking, calls Hans Castorp by his given name for the first time: "Giovanni," again transposed into another language. Hans Castorp's last song on the battlefield is the transposition of a musical experience he had under widely different circumstances in the "Berghof." A remarkable instance of transposition can also be found in the "harmless kiss on the forehead" motif; Hans Castorp refuses to kiss Clawdia on the forehead when asked to do so by the living Mynheer Peeperkorn; he does it in the presence of the dead Peeperkorn. Transposition is an effective device which Thomas Mann employs especially in such places where a decisive or a turning point in the narration is reached.

Transposition, or modulation if you prefer, is quite different from the leitmotif technique. The leitmotif appears and re-appears unchanged—a device of characterization acting as a signal. It often gains a humoristic force through repetition (Sister Mylendonck's inflamed eye, Settembrini's shabby clothes, Mrs. Stöhr's boners, Joachim's visible embarrassment where Marusja is concerned, and so on). In fact, frequently the leitmotif acquires a sort of independent existence and persons are alluded to only by mention of their leitmotif—Marusja's orange perfume, Clawdia's slit eyes, Peeperkorn's "civilized" gestures. The transposed motif acts like a tuning fork in front of a string instrument; it raises overtones, it produces sympathetic vibrations. As long as Clawdia's eyes are simply called mongolic, we have a descriptive trait; if her eyes are repeatedly called mongolic, this trait may acquire the character of a leitmotif; but in the moment in which Hans Castorp recognizes in them the eyes of Pribislaw Hippe, we have a perfect transposition. Suddenly this insignificant descriptive trait has gained weight and meaning. As long as Hans Castorp's trembling chin is simply reported, it is at best clinically meaningful; in the moment in which he recognizes in it his grandfather's gesture with all its implications of death, dignity, history as lived experience, biographical detail and childhood dreams, the trembling chin becomes a transposed motif. It is raised to a higher power. It has become resonant….

Source: Johannes A. Gaertner, "Dialectic Thought in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain," in German Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4, November 1965, pp. 605-18.


Adolphs, Dieter W., and Egon Schwarz, "Thomas Mann," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 331, Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 3: Lagerkvist-Pontoppidan, Thomson Gale, 2007, pp. 122-48.

Beddow, Michael, "The Magic Mountain," in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann, edited by Ritchie Robertson, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 137-50.

Dowden, Stephen D., Introduction to A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, edited by Stephen D. Dowden, Camden House, 1999, pp. ix-xix.

Lawrence, Joseph P. "Transfiguration in Silence: Hans Castorp's Uncanny Awakening," in A Companion to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, edited by Stephen D. Dowden, Camden House, 1999, pp. 1-13.

Lukács, Georg, "In Search of Bourgeois Man," in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1986, pp. 31-6.

Mann, Thomas, The Magic Mountain, translated by John E. Woods, Vintage International, 1996.

Ridley, Hugh, "The Magic Mountain Casts its Spell," in The Problematic Bourgeois: Twentieth-Century Criticism on Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, Camden House, 1994, pp. 34-54.

Stock, Irvin, "The Magic Mountain," in Ironic out of Love: The Novels of Thomas Mann, McFarland, 1994, pp. 51-79.

"Tuberculosis," Web site of the World Health Organization, (accessed on June 28, 2008).

von Gronicka, André, "Mann and His Contemporaries" and "Champion of Humanism," in Thomas Mann: Profile and Perspectives, Random House, 1970, pp. 53-67, 154-78.

Weigand, Hermann J., "Disease," in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain," edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1986, pp. 7-22.


Goldman, Harvey, Max Weber and Thomas Mann: Calling and the Shaping of the Self, University of California Press, 1991.

Goldman offers an interpretation of German political economist and sociologist Max Weber and of Thomas Mann that is informed by the understanding both men held regarding the relationship of one's personal identity to one's intellectual national heritage.

Kuzke, Hermann, Thomas Mann: Life as a Work of Art, A Biography, translated by Leslie Willson, Princeton University Press, 2002.

Kuzke's highly acclaimed biography analyzes the way events in Mann's life informed his writings.

Lukács, Georg, Essays on Thomas Mann, translated by Stanley Mitchell, Humanities Press International, 1995.

Noted Marxist critic Lukács presents detailed, largely favorable assessments of Mann's writings.

Stern, Fritz, Five Germanys I Have Known, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

Stern, a distinguished German historian, offers a memoir in which he reviews German history within the context of five distinct periods of German government: the Weimar Republic; Nazi Germany; the post-1945 Federal Republic; the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic; and a modern, unified Germany.