The Magic Mountain By Thomas Mann Summary and Analysis Chapter 4

Settembrini reproaches Hans Castorp for accepting the old-fashioned view that disease is always something noble even when it affects stupid people. But Castorp claims that whenever disease or death is present in any form, he develops his faculties to the utmost. Even coffins and funerals have a peculiar appeal to him. "Cultural backsliding" is the term that Settembrini uses to describe Castorp's notions. Settembrini respects the body only as long as it presents no obstacle against the attainment of freedom; as a consequence, he regards the sick body with contempt.

Important to note is the surprise Settembrini expresses upon hearing that Hans Castorp has bought a blanket. The blanket is the symbol of the rest-cure at the sanatorium, and the rest-cure the symbol of temptation toward the dangerous spells of timelessness. The Italian chooses the words placet experiri (Latin for he likes to experiment) to express his surprise over Castorp's decision to resign himself to life at the Berghof. The point is obvious: Settembrini's keen mind sees the temptations of illness, whereas our hero, pursuing a system of trial and error, is still largely unaware of them. He is the seeker, the hero of the bildungsroman, forever venturing on new paths and vacillating back and forth between what he is and what he is led to believe he should be.

With the rest-cures comes plenty of leisure time, and with the leisure time come all those countless dreams, visions, and states of semi-consciousness which lend a mystical quality to this basically highly intellectual story. No wonder that Castorp lapses into another reflection on the nature of time.

When Settembrini joins the cousins on the occasion of a Sunday morning terrace concert, they all become involved in a lengthy discussion on music. Joachim stresses its relationship to time, and the Italian adds a new dimension to the conversation by tying music up with politics. Confessing his preference for intellectual pursuits, especially literature, over music, Settembrini even declares music to be politically suspect because it invites the mind to remain passive and to lose itself in reverie. Joachim's reply affords us a rare glimpse into his uncomplicated mind. He defends what he calls the "moral value" of music by arguing that it has a way of dividing time into measures and other units. This alone makes it possible for him to enjoy time, which would otherwise remain one dull continuum. Settembrini agrees with him insofar as music may defeat boredom. Joachim is of course simpler than Settembrini, and this is why he longs for the conveniently arranged daily routine of the "world below."

Settembrini then brings up the essentially emotional quality of music. His view reflects Mann's lifelong notion of the self-destructive element in the esthetic soul. This soul has a tendency to affirm life only to the degree it can provide the individual with purely subjective, esthetic experience. Opposed to any moral view of life (Settembrini is, of course, a moralist), the esthetic soul conceives of the total immersion of the individual in contemplation as life's sole justification. It denies an individual's responsibility to society and therefore tends to be politically reactionary.

That it can under certain circumstances be dangerous for segments of a whole nation to be transported into musical-emotional passion was proven, for instance, in Nazi Germany. The Nazis enthusiastically extolled the operas of Richard Wagner with their ancient Germanic sagas and highly emotional music. The enormous appeal of this combination, unfortunately, distorted Wagner's intention.

We have seen Settembrini's enthusiasm for literature, preferably that of classical and Renaissance poets, and Hans Castorp's reluctance to share this enthusiasm. But, toward the end of his stay in the mountains, Hans will sing and listen to music, highly romantic music. This corresponds to Mann's belief that the preference of music over literature is a German characteristic (and a Slavic one), while "Western" civilization is essentially founded on literary (intellectual) values. Even if he is grossly oversimplifying (Italians, after all, have created opera, though one can argue opera is not a purely musical genre), Mann has a point: The musical tradition in central and eastern Europe is a long one, and there simply is nobody of the stature of a Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart outside the German world. By the same token, it is easy to show that German literature never produced a Dante or Shakespeare and cannot compare, either in terms of tradition or quality, with that of the French — barring, perhaps, Goethe.

The real problems, however, come in when Mann (or Settembrini, Mann's rational aspect) tries to explain these differences by assigning a basically emotional (irrational) quality to music and an intellectual one to literature. Where does this leave Milton, much of the seventeenth century, most of the nineteenth century, or writers like D. H. Lawrence, to name but a few? And where shall we put Bach's fugues, Mozart, and the highly mathematical music based on Schönberg's twelve-tone scale? Mann was treading on thin ice here, and he must have known it. More than once did he stress the complex, musical structure of The Magic Mountain, and the hero of his last novel, Dr. Faustus, is the composer Adrian Leverkühn, an intellectual par excellence. One could more easily dismiss these interesting but deficient attempts at classifying people and peoples by national traits if Mann had not attached implicit value judgments to them. And this he clearly did. Hans Castorp rejects many of Settembrini's ideas in an effort to find his own way to a "humane" life, but he is more inclined to side with the Italian's views than with those of Clavdia Chauchat or, later on, Naphta. The autobiographical element and political import are significant: Mann was farsighted enough to question the merit of Western democracy when transplanted to Germany, yet there can be no doubt that the older he became, the more he agreed with its ideals. He despised tyranny, whether in Germany or the former Soviet Union.

Though these political implications of Mann's belief in national-ethnic characterization are not the essence of the dream Castorp has on a bench not far from the Berghof, they dramatize it considerably. In this dream, our hero finds himself back in high school, where his thoughts center around Pribislav Hippe, his one-time schoolmate. Pribislav is of Slavic descent, has greenish eyes and protruding cheek bones. Hans Castorp used to be fascinated by his appearance though they had met only once — when he borrowed a pencil from Hippe. The parallel to Clavdia Chauchat is obvious. Snapping out of his dream, Castorp realizes the long span of time his mind has traveled and, still fighting spells of dizziness, runs to attend a lecture by another Slav, Dr. Krokowski. Our hero's stubborn nosebleed is a symptom of his deteriorating condition, as is his spinning head. Yet Hans deliberately rushes to suck in the poisonous analyses of love presented by the Polish doctor. Each in a different way and each to a different degree, these three "Eastern" people play a vital role in Castorp's worsening condition.

As indicated above, Hans' dream is remarkable for another reason, namely the complex world of dreams with its total suspension of the sequence of time. In a previous dream, Hans Castorp found himself borrowing a pencil; he will do so in reality in the carnival scene. Now that Hippe has been recalled, Hans is aware of the connection between the school friend and Clavdia Chauchat. In no other leitmotif does the inseparability of man's conscious and unconscious levels of experience appear so strikingly. Mann employs the leitmotif to enhance the vividness of his characterizations and also to emphasize the similarities of recurring situations.

Does this blending of dreams and conscious experiences mean that had it not been for his fascination with Hippe long ago, he would never have felt attracted to Clavdia Chauchat? Or the other way round, perhaps, that she, in some inexplicable way, has existed in his mind even before he met Hippe? Expressed in terms of psychoanalysis, has his repressed homoerotic attraction to Hippe emerged as his desire for Clavdia? The answers remain ambiguous.

At any rate, Hans Castorp attentively listens to Dr. Krokowski's analyses in an effort to get rid of his mounting sense of confusion. The subject of the lecture is the inevitability of conflicts between love and chastity. He contends that, although in the minds of most people the ideal of chastity defeats the sex drive, this drive is too strong to let itself be repressed. Repressed physical love is the basis of disease. Dr. Krokowski's arguments and his "ruthlessly scientific" ways make him the irresponsible representative of the type of psychoanalyst who naively believes in the possibility of solving people's innermost problems through rational investigation. He speaks of the "redeeming power of the analytic," and he looks "like Christ with his arms outstretched and his head on one side." Nevertheless, his ambiguous treatment of love and his mounting interest in magic make him the apostle, not of love, but of sterility. Appropriately enough, his office is located in the basement and is shadowed by "profound twilight." In this atmosphere of pseudo-scientific sensuality, Clavdia Chauchat's presence triggers another dream within Castorp, one full of longing for her. Indeed, Hans' love for her is disease-forming, but his dreams are but symbols of his physical and moral condition.

Whenever his mind is not clouded by Clavdia Chauchat's image, Castorp tends to doubt Hofrat Behrens' ability and interest in the cure of his patients. Behrens was seriously ill himself; therefore, can a former patient, one who has perhaps not wholly recovered, really do anything for him and for everybody else up here? Castorp is aware his own health is dwindling, but he is already too sick, both physically and morally, to want to do anything about it. More and more, Madame Chauchat becomes the center of his life. When she is around, they find ever-new ways of flirting and arousing each other's sensuality, and when she is away on her occasional visits to her husband, he daydreams about her. Hans Castorp is quickly becoming part and parcel of the horrible ennui of this sanatorium existence.

At the same time, his ties to Joachim are growing weaker. The slight trembling of his head at the very sight of Madame Chauchat is another outward sign of his violent emotional involvement. One of numerous leitmotifs of the novel, Castorp's trembling also serves to point to the significance of inherited tradition: Hans' father and grandfather suffered from inflammation of the lungs. Thus being by nature "life's delicate child," Hans' disease affords him an ever more lucid understanding of himself. It teaches him that the body and the soul cannot be two separate realms, each following its own laws. This is important to remember, for the ultimate transcendence of this dualism is the professed goal of our hero's painful journey toward self-awareness and humanism.

The idea that man is to an astounding degree molded by tradition is one of Mann's favorite themes, and it is dealt with once more in this chapter. Settembrini tells Castorp about his (Settembrini's) grandfather, who devoted his life to the noble cause of the Italian revolution. Hans replies by mentioning that his own grandfather was dedicated to the cause of the traditionalists of that time, who ruled over the very areas where Settembrini's ancestors had lived. Together they discover the uniqueness of their grandfathers, who practically fought each other, each convinced of the justice of his cause.

The trance Hans Castorp experiences while listening to the story of opposing causes has political relevance. He remembers himself on a lake in his native Germany, crossing over in a boat: The pale moon rising in the east and the glowing sun setting in the west leave him in a strange mood of twilight. The colorful and confusing twilight stands for the impending political holocaust threatening Germany. As we have said previously, this picture may also be interpreted to illustrate Mann's favorite political idea — that of Germany as a saving mediating force between East and West. In any case, once again a dream points into the future by means of an image of the past.

Settembrini continues to present himself in the light of the rationalist who believes in the final victory of democracy; he agrees with his grandfather's comparison of the French revolutionary days with the six days of creation. He explains that he became a man of letters because there is a close relationship between humanistic thought and action on the one hand and speech and writing on the other. The idea of the intellectual superiority of literature is advanced again. Yet Hans Castorp is not impressed, and he even pounds his fist on the table at so much arrogance from the Italian. After all, Settembrini, as much as anyone else, is what he is largely because of his ancestors. This is Thomas Mann speaking, the apostle of tradition at his best.

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