The Magic Mountain By Thomas Mann Summary and Analysis Chapter 7

The present chapter is one long proof of the fact that Hans Castorp cannot or, at any rate, does not, retain the lucid synthesis of the snow dream. He continues to coast through the magic mountain world in a state of confusion. And, with Mynheer Peeperkorn, the Dutch plantation owner from Java (an "Asiatic" type), the author provides a third character for our hero to take as a guidepost. Although Mynheer Peeperkorn (Mynheer is merely the Dutch equivalent of Milord, and Peeperkorn suggests his flamboyant nature) is not pedagogically inclined, he is nevertheless "a prize for inquiring youth on its travels." Like Settembrini and Naphta, the Dutchman cannot live up to, as a human being, what he demands of himself as a type. He, too, fails because of his extreme position.

Described as a "blurred personality" with irregular features and a totally unpredictable character, he is temperamental, illogical, and utterly irrational. Like the crumbling world around him, he cannot exercise enough self-control to express one thing at a time. He wants to say everything at the same time with the result that he says nothing. His unfinished and incoherent sentences (and the interrupted treatment of him in three separate scenes) indicate the hopeless task of doing justice to the range and intensity of his personality. Having nothing at all to do with mind or manners, the power he radiates lies in the mystical, elemental realm of human existence. His personality is "being, not meaning," as Mann puts it. He modeled Mynheer Peeperkorn after the forceful, ebullient, and renowned German dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946).

By his mere presence, Mynheer Peeperkorn dwarfs Settembrini and Naphta and exposes to ridicule their opposing intellectual stances. He dominates life at the sanatorium by appealing to people immediately. He tends to see himself as a priest of undiluted feeling and acts accordingly. Parodying Jesus at the Last Supper, he presides over the gambling table, and when the twelve patients fall asleep, he quotes the Lord's words at the sight of his disciples forsaking him on the Mount of Olives. The Dutchman moves his arms, but he moves them to a "heathen prayer." Comparing life to a "sprawling woman," he preaches the "sacraments of pleasure." His language is highly sensual and highly religious because he considers himself not merely a priest of Jesus but also one of Dionysus. He is the incarnation of the divine reveler celebrating the mystical union of the flesh and the spirit.

Mynheer Peeperkorn's charismatic features are developed to the fullest in the scene where he leads a group of patients on a hike to a waterfall. Palms turned toward them and wine cup in hand, he captivates his followers completely. His personality never fails to rally people behind him, even those ordinarily interested in Settembrini's and Naphta's debates. This demonstrates that Naphta has a point when he claims that phenomena which cannot be puzzled out by reason tend to exert far greater influence on people than those which lend themselves to rational scrutiny. No doubt Peeperkorn's overwhelming appeal is rooted in this simple psychological realization — as was the charismatic power emanating from Hitler, for instance, who, it has been asserted, was anticipated in the figure of the Dutchman.

In spite of his powers, Peeperkorn cannot make himself understood because the wild waters drown out his words. He is helplessly exposed to an even more elemental force than he is himself, namely nature. His great influence over others is set against his weakness where coping with life is concerned. This is a major problem for him; he admits that "the defeat of the feelings, their overthrow when confronted with life — that is impotence." As a result, Peeperkorn commits suicide, which, like everything else about him, is done "to the n-th power." The dual aspect of his character — that of wielding power over certain people and completely yielding to others — rather resembles that of Clavdia, now his steady companion.

Clavdia ridicules and even humiliates Hans when he addresses her in the familiar (taking it for granted that she, too, would remember their carnival-night affair). He tells her that he has waited for her return and asks if she still has his X-ray portrait; ever since her departure, X-rays have served as a leitmotif tying together Hans and Clavdia. Though she goes so far as to forbid him to inquire about her new company, she nevertheless permits herself to be ruled by Peeperkorn and admits his possessiveness has something frightening about it. In Mann's scheme of ethnic traits, both Clavdia and Peeperkorn combine the "Eastern" qualities of tyranny and slavishness, the active and passive facets of irrationality.

As is to be expected from Castorp, his feelings toward Peeperkorn are characterized by ambivalence. Nowhere is this better illustrated than during the visit he pays the Dutchman at his sickbed. He is jealous of him, but his appreciation of Peeperkorn's vitality is genuine and, in the course of time, develops into sympathy. Eager not "to undermine the situation as it is," Castorp truthfully answers Peeperkorn's questions about his relationship with Clavdia; he even doubts — aloud — his qualities as a man. Why does he do all this? It may be partly true that Hans is trying to appease the irascible Dutchman, but when he subconsciously begins to imitate his gestures and cutoff sentences, it becomes clear that he is about to surrender to his spell. Finally, Hans tells his old mentor Settembrini, who is of course dead set against Peeperkorn, that "of all the various forms of stupidity, that of cleverness is one of the worst" — a clear sign that his sympathy for Peeperkorn goes beyond any attempt at appeasing him.

All these manifestations of Castorp's ambivalence — yet submissiveness — toward Peeperkorn are an indication of his deterioration. His understanding of Peeperkorn and Clavdia's situation is the result not of his superior magnanimity but of his self-doubts. He seems to be living proof of the correctness of Naphta's opinion: Total realism is true nihilism in the sense that the intellectual approval of a position and its opposite logically results in the suspension of judgment and, eventually, in total withdrawal from involvement of any kind.

Castorp is so much part of the sanatorium world by now that he does not even exchange letters with the "world below." Appropriately, he says of himself, "I am lost to the world" (the title of a song by Gustav Mahler, a famous composer in the Wagnerian tradition). The climax of Castorp's degeneration, which, as Behrens detects, does not have physical causes any more (his lung condition is improving), is expressed in his confession to Clavdia that he has to take the path to life leading through death, "the spiritual way."

Those not sensitive enough to experience "spiritualization" through their condition — that is, the vast majority of patients — think up all sorts of pastimes and fads, ranging from gorging themselves with chocolates and drawing the outlines of pigs (the symbol of filthiness and stupidity, already employed in the carnival scene) to trying to figure out the last decimals of the complex fraction pi.

Peeperkorn's drinking bouts and the various preposterous crazes show the degree of boredom prevailing at the Berghof; Dr. Krokowski's spiritualist sessions symbolize its decadence. The underlying mood now is one of dreams, visions, trances, and hallucinations. Using Elly Brand, a young girl with so-called spiritualist talents, as a medium, the Polish doctor establishes communication with the world of spirits. Through Holger, the mouthpiece of that world, Castorp learns that he has been here seven years. As the high point of one of these seance sessions, he requests the return of Joachim from the dead — a request which may be regarded as a manifestation of Han's desire to ask help from someone whose simplicity and sense of duty he used to value highly. Hans' wish is granted, and in an atmosphere of eerie magic and sensuality, Joachim's shape appears. Frightened by what he has done (he has disturbed his cousin's peace), Hans switches on the light and causes Joachim's likeness to vanish. One should remember that Settembrini also turned on the light some time ago when Castorp was endangered by the world of sensuality in the person of Clavdia.

As far as Castorp's role in the seances is concerned, it is a sad commentary on his gullibility and confusion. This is not to say that the line of argument he follows against Settembrini, who detests not only seances but everything pertaining to the spiritual as "cultural backsliding," or at least fraud, is essentially incorrect. He argues that the boundary line between reality and illusion is so blurred that one cannot simply dismiss these experiments. What is important for the reader to remember is that here, as in so many previous instances, it is the exaggeration of an idea — and its claim to exclusiveness, rather than the idea itself — that makes it wrong. By now, Castorp's confusion has reached a point where he experiences matter and spirit, consciousness and unconsciousness, as one and the same.

All through the novel, the artificial maintenance of opposites and the resulting belief in a strong dualistic principle have been shown to be detrimental to life. Settembrini has fought against it and extolled a monistic view. Yet there is a limit to this position also, for, as Castorp's argument about seances shows, it is dangerous to carry monism so far that the faculty of differentiating between reality and illusion is dulled. That it is difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to tell one from the other by using the right criteria does not mean that such a difference between the two realms is nonexistent or irrelevant. Castorp's reasoning, for instance, that the term "love" is used to describe both the kiss Clavdia gives him and Dr. Krokowski's highly questionable practices marks his confusion. By the same token, Peeperkorn's explanation that certain tropical saps may be used both as poison and antitoxin touches on this same issue. Like Castorp, Peeperkorn is not wrong because he recognizes the dual aspect of something, but because he fails to clearly associate the act of poisoning with death and that of administering antitoxin with life.

The way the narrator and Hans Castorp, whose viewpoints differ only slightly, react to Dr. Krokowski's lectures on love and psychoanalytical experiments in Chapter 5 already leaves little doubt that Mann never felt at ease with psychoanalysis. Although he was familiar with its essentials, he never ceased to feel endangered as an artist by its prodding nature. Castorp's timid reactions to being X-rayed (in Chapter 5) echo this idea; X-rays do with the body what psychoanalysis does with the mind. All the more understandable are Mann's negative reactions, expressed by the narrator and the hero, to Dr. Krokowski's various forms of meddling with the psyche, which, though supposedly conducted in the interest of "disinterested research," are poorly concealed actions of sensuality and black magic. Before each séance, the Polish doctor examines Elly Brand's physical condition, "invariably without any result." When she is forced, in a state of trance, to go through the motions of giving birth to Joachim, Castorp watches the scene with feelings of curiosity and disgust that remind him of a visit to a brothel many years ago.

As the names of the individual sections suggest ("Vingt-et-un," "The Great God Dumps," "Hysterica Passio"), the inanity prevailing at the sanatorium grows, making the patients increasingly intolerant of one another. Nothing has really happened in the "hermetic" world so far, but now, in the anticipation of something terrible, movement comes into play. Little things signal the impending disaster, such as Frau Mylendonk's "stye in a perfect state of maturity" and our hero's arrival at the seventh and last dinner table, significantly occupied by Russians, Armenians, and Finns — in short, "Easterners." The disappearance of goodwill and sensible discussions, as well as the frightening rise of magic practices and sheer violence, marks the beginning of the end. For the slightest reason, patients jump at each other's throat, primarily Nazis at Jews and Poles at each other. The classical adversaries of the novel, Settembrini and Naphta, become so irritated over trifles that their verbal battles deteriorate into outright fights. Particularly, the Spaniard sarcastically ridicules every ideal having anything to do with bettering the human lot; he attacks scientific investigation, justice, and love. He revels in demonstrating to everybody the many ambiguities in which the Absolute manifests itself, and he loves to watch others suffer from the resulting confusion.

The duel which takes place at Naphta's insistence illustrates how the two adversaries and Hans, who tries to intervene, act according to their respective intellectual positions. By engaging in something as atavistic as a duel, Settembrini and Naphta show, more clearly than ever, that values per se are an intellectual stance — a farce — in their presence. The Italian humanist shoots to miss whereas the Spaniard kills himself. Hans, aware of his mediating role as an individual who has caught glimpses of insight after his snow dream and as a German, tries to intervene — in vain.

Not even at this point in the story does Mann lose his objective distance as regards the intellectual tit-for-tat between the two educators. He pokes fun at Settembrini's dangerous and preposterous simplifications, which are the consequence of his failure to live up, as a human being, to his intellectual notions of "philosophical monism." How grave must his political blindness be, for instance, if he, the fanatical anti-Austrian, begins to wonder at the outbreak of war whether it really makes any sense to back the Kremlin against the monarchy? Yet there can be no doubt that Mann, if forced to choose between Settembrini and Naphta, would side with the former. By having Naphta commit suicide, he demonstrates the self-destructive nature of sympathy with irrationality and disease, which inevitably results in terror if elevated to the level of an allegedly viable principle.

The point has been made repeatedly that The Magic Mountain is a highly musical novel because of its strong antithetical elements. Critics point to the great influence exerted on Mann by what is known as contrapuntal elements in music. Besides Behrens' request for the piano version of the "Pilgrims' Chorus" from Wagner's Tannhäuser — a significant allusion, by the way, to Castorp as a questing hero in the religious sense — and the previously mentioned song by Mahler, there are countless implicit remarks about music throughout Chapter 7. Most important, however, is Castorp's excitement about the record player which the management has bought for the patients. Putting himself in charge of it, he whiles away many a day dreaming up visions to the various melodies he plays. He becomes particularly fond of five songs, each of which reflects some aspect of his love for Clavdia and the lure of death. Hans' love and his temptation to yield to disease and death have mutually intensified each other since the day he met Clavdia. Remembering how Settembrini calls certain phenomena of modern life "cultural backsliding," he realizes self-conquest would be the only way of getting rid of his feelings for her and his love for the tunes haunting him. But, then, what enchantment is there in these songs! Aren't they worth dying for? His growing fondness for this highly romantic music is the clearest manifestation yet of the intricate relationship between music and death. It has overshadowed his entire existence at the Berghof and increases now that his end is near.

Verdi's Aïda intrigues him with its romantic concept for death. The message of Carmen is that the gratification of love leads to death. (Carmen, the gypsy who cannot understand why her soldier-lover must leave her, drops him for a matador. The jilted lover stabs her to death.) Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun lulls him into visions where he, in the likeness of Pan, enjoys life in the sun-drenched groves of love. Valentine's song from Gounod's opera Faust brings back memories of Joachim's likeness in his mind as it appeared during the seance. Most clearly of all, Schubert's "The Linden Tree" arouses Castorp's nostalgia for the tranquility of death. His flirtation with death is the main theme of all these songs. It bears out Mann's old belief that music is essentially a non-rational, if not anti-rational, medium which tends to dull man's senses to the point of causing him to flee responsibility in specific and life in general.

Castorp's end, and with it the end of the novel, comes abruptly. It is important to bear in mind that this end does not result from an inner logic of his development. His continued confusion long after his promising insights after the snow dream shows that he has not changed at all and that he will not change "up here." Only his release from the world of the magic mountain can possibly make him change. That his return to the flatland takes place in his seventh year only underlines Mann's arbitrariness in timing it, for he uses seven in a magical-mystical rather than a strict arithmetic sense.

The total immersion in timelessness and spacelessness Castorp experiences now is most symbolically described in his vision of the seaside landscape of "dimensionless" sand. Deceptive and fascinating, sand and sea have replaced snow as the symbols of confusion and sterility. What the two scenes "Snow" and "By the Ocean of Time" have in common is the use of these symbols and Castorp's realization that there can be no time where there is no motion, that the experience of time is a correlative of measurable space.

Hints have been dropped all along that, as the narrator puts it, "the pace and the story's contentual time has so increased that there is no more holding it." And, indeed, time does move faster and faster, racing toward the edge of the magic mountain, beyond which Castorp's existence will be reabsorbed by the sphere of carefully measured time. This condensation of events in the last third of our hero's travels expresses Mann's attempt to get across the point to the reader that in Castorp's mind, everything is registered as happening simultaneously. Just how quickly time passes, nobody knows, not even the narrator. Mann, always eager for his readers to identify with Castorp and the narrator, uses vagueness to draw them closer to one another.

Intrigued by the complexity of time, Hans Castorp toys with the temptation of tasting its secrets and, doing so, gradually loses the interest and, finally, the ability to gain clarity about the spell he is under. Relieved from all responsibilities, he now feels as Herr Albin did long ago; Albin, knowing that he was bound to die, willingly resigned himself to the life of an aimlessly drifting candidate for death. While it is true that various circumstances (the dream character of the magic mountain, the Berghof environment, his contemplative mentality, his infatuation with Clavdia) have aided Hans' lack of will to extricate himself from his situation, there is some question as to whether we should excuse his laxness. The answer to this question will help determine whether we should consider Castorp's education a success or a failure and whether he accomplishes his ideal as envisaged by the author. Mann himself does not condone Hans' laxness; instead, he attacks his philosophizing as "baleful traffic with eternity" and contrasts it with Joachim's and Settembrini's sense of duty and self-discipline. Yet Mann is also aware of Castorp's bourgeois and moral side. This side makes him "catch time by the tail." This is the meaning of the scene in which Castorp watches a second hand slip over a watch dial at an even pace without stopping after each completed round. Realizing that time itself has no feeling for limits and divisions, he knows that the digits have been put there to make sense out of the hand's steady motion. Transplanted to a moral level, the meaning is: Where there are no limits or where man, a victim of permissiveness, has deliberately abandoned them, he must create new ones. As human beings, we cannot meaningfully survive in a vacuum.

If Castorp's end does not come about through an inner logic of his development, it is equally important to remember that it does not result from an act of will on his part but through events acting upon his fate from outside the magic mountain. The war hurls him back into the flatland where, paradoxically, he will have to fight against his faithful mentor Settembrini on the real (as opposed to verbal) battlefield. "Go and fight bravely! More than that can no man" are the Italian's last words to him, ringing with all the fervor of active engagement but also with the tragic realization that he who becomes engaged wholeheartedly may easily meet death. This, of course, is the message of Castorp's whole bildungsreise: Life and death are but two aspects of one and the same phenomenon, neither of which can justly claim to exist independently of the other. Love alone, as he realizes in his snow dream, is the transcending element through which humanity may gain peace. This is why he sings Schubert's "The Linden Tree," the symbol of longing for love and peace, just as the narrator loses track of him marching toward the flaming front.

That Castorp's deliverance from his spell comes about through his condemnation to the horrors of war is therefore no contradiction. The risk of death is the only chance he has of becoming adjusted to some measure of purposefulness in "real life" again, of attaining purification and eventual moral regeneration for himself and, on another level, for postwar European society. He has certainly traveled the perilous, roundabout path to life, the one to which he himself, "life's delicate child," refers as the one "that leads through death." The point is that he, the sum total of all his educators and yet also much more than that, could not have traveled any other road.

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