You don't love someone until you love their flaws as well. And that's what I started to do with this cast of characters. They're not exactly sympathet...moreYou don't love someone until you love their flaws as well. And that's what I started to do with this cast of characters. They're not exactly sympathetic characters, and Mann doesn't try to endear us to them, preferring to remain aloof, distant, semi-objective. At first I was turned off by their stodgy appearances, their classist snobbery. But I soon realized that that was an unfair assessment without delving deeper into each and every Buddenbrook. The more I read about them, the more their uniqueness within that general family resemblance became apparent, and the more I liked them. In fact, each one was an aberration from the family norm, and even the one character (Thomas) who was supposed to hold the whole family together, even he was not who he seemed--not at all a Buddenbrook. He was just holding up the backbone of a giant Buddenbrook puppet, in some parade around town. In the end there was no Buddenbrook, just the facade of Buddenbrook, with each Buddenbrook departing from that ideal in their own way.
(view spoiler)[At first it's easy to see Tony and Thomas to be similar for instance. Both are concerned about appearances and about the family name. But underneath the surface there is a world of difference. While Tony cares about the ultimate fate of the family, she operates through a narrative imperative... Her pride comes from the story of the family through the generations, maybe even more than the outcome. She wants to carry this story forward. Thus, when she sees the family tree, she cannot help but fill it in as if it were a choose-your-own-adventure book. She wants to see her life in the context of something bigger, not in a religious sense, but in a storybook sense. At heart--though she's weathered many a storm--Tony still retains a bit of that "silly goose" that she keeps claiming she's outgrown. But it's this childishness that makes her endearing, it's this insistence on her own personal and family narrative legacy that makes her bring up the names of Grunlich, Permaneder, Weinschenk at the dinner table even though they were shameful episodes. Yes, it wasn't how she wanted things to turn out, but she's spunky and comes back from these setbacks precisely by celebrating and proudly declaiming these injustices in order to conquer them.
Not one of life's insults or compliments had ever left her at a loss for words... Nothing left unsaid gnawed at her; no unspoken emotions weighed her down. And she did not have to carry her past with her. ... But since they were publicly acknowledged facts, she used them--by boasting of them and speaking about them with a terribly serious face.
Thomas, on the other hand, is all about suppression and self denial. He is not naive like Tony. He is steeled against life, and to live, in his mind, is to submerge his true self. To not do so would be irresponsible.
But to use a situation without any sense of shame, he told himself, that is what it means to be fit for real life.
It is telling that he died of a tooth ache, as teeth live in that region between inner and outer life. That true self that never got expression but decayed inside of him. He is ultimately a tragic figure, but I really liked him too, for totally different reasons. I pitied him. And I felt for him, and knew he didn't really want to be who he was. His inner and outer selves were not talking to each other, and the more he tried to hide his inner weaknesses, the more he had to strengthen his outer appearance. Unlike Tony, he would never bring up or celebrate his failures. He is a practical results oriented person, or at least he tries to be, and so there would be no reason for him to build a story. He only cares about the story's ending.
Christian is also the opposite of both Thomas and Tony.. He doesn't care about appearances, not only that, he isn't even aware of them. He's a bit of a contradiction, wanting to please the crowd with his theatric tales, yet not having the social graces to get the hints that people throw him. He's oblivious. He's sort of a buffoon, but a lovable one, especially refreshing in contrast to the rest of the family. Ultimately he's a little selfish, yet maybe that's not unwarranted. He's a sort of counterweight.
I don't think that the salve itself does it, you see. But the main thing, you understand, is that one idea can only be canceled by an opposing idea.
Thomas and Christian's out and out arguments throughout the book, though rare, were some of the highlights of the book for me, because of that brotherly interaction, where so much is understood in a word or a glance because of their long history.
That's what I lack, you see. I get totally used up by the other things, all the junk, you see, and have nothing left for the respectable part of life.
Ultimately, this book is a character study more than anything else. I don't even know how to talk about the book without talking about its particularities, its personalities. And that is also why it is so impressive, that Mann wrote this when he was 25, to have such a full understanding of so many different human motivations, so many types of differences that make one and one and one. That make up one name Buddenbrooks, distinguished into shades.
That is not to say it does not have its flaws either... I thought the last three chapters of this book were a mistake. Not because of what happened in them, but because of how Mann wrote them. The "day in the life of Johann" chapter surprised me by how badly written it was. Even down to the sentence structure, it just seemed oddly subpar. The tone and style was totally different from the rest of the book, and yet not different in a good way. The dialogue felt really wooden and the details that he chose to write about did not seem to illuminate as much as the ones he chose in many of his much shorter chapters. It felt almost like Mann wasn't sure how to end his long epic novel, and was scrambling for ideas.
Also, even though there were many fully fleshed characters here, I was disappointed that many of the minor characters remained pretty one dimensional and did not become more complex or barge in somehow with their own personalities... (hide spoiler)]
Lastly, it's interesting to see the beginnings of Mann's obsession with tradition. It seems like this motif has deep and personal roots for Mann. The only other novel I've read of his so far is Joseph and His Brothers, where he had a more balanced/philosophical approach.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)