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The Magic Mountain

Thomas Mann

Summary and Analysis Chapter 3

This chapter serves two main functions: that of introducing Hans Castorp to real life at the Berghof and its director, Hofrat Behrens, as well as to the two characters who will vie for his attention from now on — Settembrini and Clavdia Chauchat. Second, the chapter opens the discussion on the nature of time, the novel's other major theme.

The peculiar impressions Hans Castorp collects characterize the atmosphere of physical and moral decay prevailing at the sanatorium. When Joachim introduces his cousin to several patients at their first breakfast together, the array of characters they meet affords them a glimpse of all the misery and falseness that they will live with throughout their stay. Quaint little habits, distinct accents, gross flaws, and most unusual looks identify each of those assembled as the representative of his specific profession or corner of the continent. All of them are sick members of society. The fact that they are all extremely wealthy is by no means a coincidence and adds to the vital social and political implications of the book.

Most memorable among the minor characters Castorp meets here is perhaps Frau Stöhr, whose unbelievable stupidity and coarseness puts her on the lowest rank of the social ladder at the Berghof. It is important to note that, sterile, sick, and half-dead though the patients here may be, socializing and the sham accompanying it does interest them as if they needed it to simulate ordinary life "below." Like so many other patients, Frau Stöhr is forever anxious to cover up her total lack of intelligence and education by carrying on high-brow conversations and acting sophisticated. Her overly cultured ways, which cannot hide her countless gaucheries, are symptomatic of her society's essential barbarism. Here Mann proves himself a perfect caricaturist, employing recurring leitmotifs and picking picturesque, appropriate names. The consistently stupid expression of Frau Stöhr's face, for instance, is described in terms of her "rodentlike teeth." As the story goes on, this set of teeth becomes Frau Stöhr. Also, her name means "sturgeon" in German and, spelled slightly differently, "stubborn," which provides ample leeway for the (German-speaking) reader's punning imagination. To top it all off, Frau Stöhr keeps boasting of the twenty-eight different fish sauces she can fix.

Thus, she is a perfect example of a patient whose insensitivity and total lack of potential keep her disease from working in her favor. In sensitive people like Castorp, a rise in the fever curve signifies growing awareness, a sharpening of intelligence. In the case of Frau Stöhr, on the other hand, all there is for tuberculosis to bring out is the purely physical aspect of disease. She remains gross and stupid until the end. The same will be true of Clavdia Chauchat, although her deficiency is not one of intelligence. She will remain sensual and passive throughout the book.

There are other, more shocking instances of the sham facade of the sanatorium world, such as the threats of Herr Albin, a hopeless case, to commit suicide. Playing with his gun, the young man meets nothing but angry protests from his fellow patients, who are extremely eager to avoid any thought of death. When they insist he will be cured if he only stopped toying with his weapon, it is their cowardice they show and not their sympathy for him. The more they pretend to console him, the more he feels challenged to uncover their unwillingness to face reality. More than that, Albin says that he is content with his fate because now certain of his impending death, he can resign himself to idleness such as he did in school when the teacher would not call upon him anymore because his failure was a fact. Herr Albin's mention of his high school days triggers a faint, first picture of Castorp's own school days; he is startled by a "wild wave of sweetness which swept over him." The remembering of his school days, of his school friend Hippe, and the foreshadowing of the exchange of the pencil with Clavdia has begun. This is one of the book's major motifs.

Joachim casually tells his cousin that many patients die without anybody knowing anything about it because such "unpleasant" events are handled with utmost discreetness. Physical illness, in other words, is treated exactly like the moral sickness of exaggerated class-consciousness; it is ignored. The doctors of the sanatorium (the ruling politicians of the "world below") are anxious to conceal death (moral bankruptcy) from the public. As a result, the climate of pretense at the Berghof (in prewar Europe) stands in eerie contrast to death, which rules supreme.

The theme of the ennobling and dehumanizing aspects of death, touched upon previously in connection with Frau Stöhr, figures prominently in Castorp's reaction to Behrens' brutal treatment of dying patients. Hans Castorp insists that a dying human being should be treated with respect because he is always more venerable than "a chap going about, laughing and earning his living, and eating three meals a day." The sensitivity he showed long ago at his grandfather's deathbed is still there, though he seems to have become less certain that "sadness can only prevail where life is concerned." He has begun to view life and death as two aspects of one and the same thing.

In connection with his heart palpitations, Castorp's preoccupation with this subject comes out again. Later, Mann will transfer its discussion to the level of purely philosophical discourses between Settembrini and Naphta, but for the time being Hans worries about his palpitations and remarks to Joachim, "it is disturbing and unpleasant to have the body act as though it had no connection with the soul." The dichotomy between body and soul, life and death, is beginning to strike him as something to give more thought to, something he will transcend as his self-awareness grows.

Joachim introduces his cousin to Settembrini, an Italian gentleman of fine features and great learning. The apostle of reason, progress, and humanism, he is one of Hans' chief mentors throughout the novel. Revealing himself as a man of letters, he goes about reciting Italian poetry and telling the cousins of his translations of liberal thinkers. One of these men he translated had composed a hymn to Satan himself-Satan in the form of unbridled revolution. The Italian baffles Castorp by comparing his visit to the Berghof with Odysseus' venture into the realm of shadows. To Hans' objection that he has come up several thousand feet, Settembrini cynically replies that Hans has been a victim of an illusion.

Settembrini's admiration for Renaissance poetry and figures of Greek mythology shows how much he lives in the liberal Greco-Roman tradition. It also reflects Mann's sympathy with this view, which he considered the most powerful reservoir of democratic thought. Yet the lines of the Italian song, a fervent glorification of revolution, point to the one shortcoming in Settembrini which renders his views deficient and unacceptable as such to our hero. Like so many front-line liberals, Settembrini cannot extricate himself from the paradox of having to be dogmatic about his liberalism. He is rather willing to wage war against Austria, Russia, and the church. But his fanaticism also has a pedantic side to it; insisting to Castorp that smoking has been despised by the most brilliant thinkers in history because it befogs the mind, he declares it a vice.

Hans Castorp, the avid consumer of Maria Mancini cigars, does not appreciate this at all, and we may rest assured that Thomas Mann, a connoisseur of cigars himself, intended this to be a bit of criticism of Settembrini. This will be extremely important later on because it will supply Naphta, Settembrini's reactionary adversary, with arguments he could barely have found himself. Mann himself never advocated liberalism to the point of condoning revolution, and, in his attempts to help democratize Germany, he never ceased to be extremely critical of those who would transplant Western-style democracy on German society without modifying it to suit a different mentality. It would be Germany's role to mediate between East and West, according to Mann, but never to copy a political system. This mediating role, by the way, is one aspect of Castorp's dream of the rising moon in the east and the setting sun in the west (Chapter 4).

No sooner has Settembrini, whose exterior is described as forcing Castorp to "mental alertness and clarity," entered into our hero's life than he begins to use his keen powers of observation in Hans' favor. He inquires about the "term" Hans has been sentenced to by "Minos and Rhadamanthus"; he lashes out most cynically at Behrens' greediness (underlined by his standard expression sine pecunia and his invention of a separate summer season for the Berghof); and he condemns the director's conniving generosity toward a debauched prince who showed his gratitude by conferring the title of "Hofrat" on him. The Hofrat's sensuality will become obvious later on, especially in connection with his hobby, oil painting. Spotting Dr. Krokowski, Settembrini mentions the appropriateness of his black attire to Hans and is shocked that the latter has not yet sized him up. Exhorting him to use his eyes and reasoning power to arrive at lucid conclusions, the Italian lapses into another praise of humanism and the related art of pedagogy.

Settembrini represents that force which never hesitates to express direct honesty. He answers Castorp's charge that he is too sarcastic in his efforts to eradicate wrong by telling him that malice is the "animating spirit of criticism; and criticism is the beginning of progress and enlightenment." In this context, it is interesting to note that the Italian liberal very much resembles Mann's brother Heinrich, with whose highly didactic notions about art (especially political literature) he never agreed. Settembrini was the name of a historical figure in Italy's fight for unification, though the author never said he used it in his novel for this reason.

Whether Mann chose Settembrini's name deliberately or not, the long battle between the Austrian empire and the individual Italian states over unification and independence (of which World War I was merely the final, most violent outbreak) is a major theme on the novel's political level. Settembrini's aggressive exposure of the relationship of Behrens (whose spurious title Hofrat means "Imperial Counselor" and was once a meaningful award for distinguished services rendered, but is used here as a symbol of the declining monarchy's title-consciousness) with a debauched member of nobility certainly fits this pattern of his passionate anti-monarchistic feelings.

When Castorp finds the patient who keeps irritating him by slamming doors in the dining hall, he is surprised at her attractiveness and, above all, by her slanted eyes, protruding cheek bones, and the delicate, girlish hand that pats her hair: "A vague memory of something, of somebody, stirred him slightly and fleetingly as he looked." Clavdia Chauchat's Asiatic features captivate him. Little does Hans know that from now on his life is going to be increasingly influenced by her presence. The fact that she is Russian and returns to the Caucasus every once in a while to visit her husband accounts for her sloppy behavior, an indication of her pronounced passivity, sensuality, and irrationality in Mann's "system" of ethnic characteristics.

The strange fascination Clavdia Chauchat exerts on Castorp leads to the latter's mounting confusion. Her effect on him is such that at one point he cannot even muster up enough strength to look at the blood he coughed up — a clear symbol of the decay she spreads. Clavdia is like a scintillating and pungent carnivorous plant, enticing her prey by dulling its senses rather than by striking out herself. She is not even aware of her devastating influence on Castorp, this fact underlines her passivity. The implications of her sensual and irrational character are eminently political, as are the Russian couple who keeps offending Castorp by promiscuously giggling and panting in the room next to his. Feeling and irrationality (in the form of passivity and tyranny) are "Eastern" characteristics; submissiveness and hierarchial order their political expression.

Mann simplifies, of course, but he nevertheless has a point, as the political history of eastern and central Europe has shown for hundreds of years. Whether ruled by tsarist or communistic tyranny, whether ruled by Prussian power politics or Nazi imperialism, eastern and central European (Slavic) peoples have never had a democratic tradition to speak of, at least not before the end of the twentieth century. (Hungarians have, but they are not Slavs). It is not by accident that the obscene sounds of the Russian couple are accompanied by the hackneyed tunes of operetta music — symbols of imperial Austria. This theme of "Eastern" and "Western" traits will crop up again in connection with the far touchier discussion of whether "intellectual literature" may be pitted against "emotional music."

Immediately after Castorp meets Settembrini and Clavdia Chauchat, the two become embattled over him. Asked about his age by Settembrini, Castorp has to think twice before answering him correctly. Then, when he talks gibberish (his temperature is consistently rising), the Italian advises him to return to the "world below." This marks Settembrini's first intervention in Hans' support. His second one comes that night in Hans' dream when Hofrat Behrens advises him to while away his time in pursuit of pleasure. Settembrini, in this dream, admonishes Hans to resist the diabolic forces of Behrens, but Hans refuses to pay any attention to his clear-headed advice. Yet the Italian realizes Hans' condition and keeps up his warnings. In this same dream, Castorp finds himself back in the school court of his high school, where he borrows a pencil from Clavdia Chauchat. Toward dawn, he dreams of her again, this time of the open, delicate hand, which she offers him to kiss. This hand was the very first thing he noticed about her, and now it triggers the same "wild wave of sweetness" in him he experienced when he put himself in Herr Albin's position earlier that day. The connection is evident: Herr Albin was bound to die and played with the idea of committing suicide; Castorp is moving toward his own death through Clavdia.

The emergence of Clavdia Chauchat in the school court is the most thoroughly developed leitmotif in the novel, pulling together episodes both real and imagined over long spans of time. The leitmotif strongly suggests Mann's familiarity with Sigmund Freud's theory of dreams. In fact, Mann studied them while writing The Magic Mountain. He was also familiar with Freud's psychoanalytical experiments. Therefore it may not be too farfetched to see in Settembrini, the great admonisher toward self-control and responsibility, an embodiment of the hero's superego; Clavdia Chauchat, the temptress toward sensuality, may then be seen as Hans' id.

We have made the point that Mann conceived of virtually all of the novel's characters in terms of opposites; in fact, most of them are defined in terms of their opposites. Settembrini and Clavdia Chauchat form such a set of opposites, Settembrini and Naphta later on; and Castorp with Joachim also. If the relationship between the cousins was well characterized in Chapter 1, there are new insights here with regard to Behrens. He prefers the more pliable and susceptible character of Hans to that of Joachim, which makes him think Hans would be a better patient than his cousin. Joachim's overly reserved treatment of his girlfriend Marusja, on the other hand, is an interesting parallel to Hans' budding love for Clavdia Chauchat.

As stated at the outset of this chapter, The Magic Mountain is also a novel about the mystery of time. Chapter 3 introduces the subject explicitly in the form of a conversation between the cousins. It develops out of Castorp's annoyance over the tedious procedure of having to take his temperature four times a day. Yet his annoyance is only seemingly insignificant, for it soon turns out that boredom plays a very real role in any discussion about time. Time, after all, is the correlative of experience.

As is to be expected from Joachim's uncomplicated nature, he is quite willing to let the various time-measuring devices determine what time is. Castorp, however, is more sophisticated and argues that time is as long or as short as one experiences it. When Joachim, getting tired of "mental gymnastics," contends that "a minute lasts as long as it takes the second hand of my watch to complete a circuit," Hans is still not satisfied. Considering Joachim's words, he concludes that we measure time by space. It does not mean much to say it takes twenty hours from Hamburg to Davos, for on foot it takes infinitely longer, and in the mind not even a second. This notion of time as a function of space will be developed further when Hans tries to find some relationship between time and the circles he makes wandering around in the snowstorm.

Time is not merely a major theme of the novel; it is also its medium. All of Chapter 3 deals only with events during Castorp's first day at the Berghof. It begins exactly where Chapter 1 ended — with Hans getting up in the morning. The point is clear: Once a newcomer has lived through one day at the sanatorium, the best he can hope for as far as novelty is concerned are new ways of fighting boredom and confusion. A day is like a month is like a year at the Berghof, and all of it is like a spell of uncertain duration. The static quality of time stands out. As Castorp puts it on his first afternoon up there: "Good Lord, is it still only the first day? It seems to me I've been up here a long time — ages."

From now on, single chapters of the book will not treat a day, but weeks, months, and even years of Hans Castorp's life. No wonder, for as Hans reflects at one point, "A path is always longer the first time we traverse it."