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Thomas Mann's the Magic Mountain
Madame Claudia Chauchat's point-of-view of her ailment -- "no delicate child of life," is she!
Thomas Mann as a novelist is uniquely gifted in his ability to convey philosophical insight through the deployment of a different characters' specific perspective in the context of a town, family or hospital community -- even the ailment afflicting the hospital community itself, in the case of The Magic Mountain. Even when the character in question, such as Claudia Chauchat, herself lacks a level of profound self-knowledge and insight, because of her location in the particular community of the sanatorium in question at the heart of the novel, the reader is still capable of being upon the receiving end of profound insights upon the contrasting nature of health and illness from Mann's point-of-view. "We don't have much time in life," exclaims the main protagonist at the onset of the novel, but only Claudia, of all of the residents of The Magic Mountain, really lives this truth. (7)
The entire community, health and sick, of The Magic Mountain are afflicted by one ailment or another, some physical, other mental. The physically sick, such as Chauchat, are suffering from tuberculosis. However, there are also those who are mentally sick but physically well like Hans. The contrasting point-of-views of view of health and illness in a community of illness are deployed skillfully by Mann to add additional texture to what could be otherwise a rather mundane collective memoir of illness, or a rather mundane metaphor of the human condition through illness, particularly that of an ailment so common to the 19th century era during which the author wrote. In fact, rather than giving the quality of the ailment of tuberculosis a singular character, Mann is striking in his ability to give a kind of multidimensional character to the ailment itself, by showing the illness' progression in a multiple of physical bodies and through the point-of-view of contrasting physical characters. Tuberculosis, buy the end of the tale, has a three-dimensional characterization on par with the dramatic personages of the novel. For instance, the suffering of Claudia Chauchat and her perspective on her body and illness is entirely different and distinct than that of Hans Castorp, the rather weak willed and milksop main protagonist of The Magic Mountain. Consumption is not just a metaphor for death and withdrawal for life, it can imbue one's perspective and point-of-view with a hedonistic and feverish intensity, as it does Chauchat, or illness can also, in the case of Hans, provide an excuse for the withdrawal of an already death-driven and life-avoiding character.
Thus when the perspective or narrative point-of-view of Hans Castorp is contrasted with the hedonistic, married woman Claudia Chauchat, the metaphor of illness merely as an example of something that afflicts the body or the mind becomes something much deeper -- it becomes a metaphor for the outsider condition, an individual whom is estranged from life, and an example, in the form of Claudia, of the ability of the spirit to transcend the limits of the human body. Hans' cousin at the beginning of the novel speaks of them and us, or the residents of the mountain and the rest of the world, the sick and the healthy.
Consumption frequently was though to heighten the senses, and used, particularly in women, as a metaphor for delicacy and early death, an individual too delicate to live. But Claudia's perspective on life, despite her depleted, tuberculosis-ridden body is that of someone who is passionate and loves life, and wishes physically to continue to be part of its ebbs and flows. This is in contrast with the beginning of the novel Hans tells the reader that he views himself as a "delicate child of life." Hans even says that Claudia reminds him more of a man, of a schoolboy he used to know, whom he was infatuated with as the child he was, not so long ago, given that he is only twenty-three years of age, and has barely finished with exams and university.
In other words, although Hans is first going to visit his cousin in a tuberculosis sanatorium, because he seems so afflicted in mind, if not in body at the time, as someone who is too delicate to live in a mental fashion in the harsh currents of the political and social world of his day, tuberculosis becomes a wasting disease for him.…[continue]
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On several occasions he is tempted by the opportunity to return to the working world. After a time, he feels that he has become enriched by the "adventures of the flesh and the spirit" that the Mountain has presented him, and would have much to contribute were he to return (Mann, 994). The first signs of tuberculosis provide him the pretext to remain, initially, and spend his days dreaming
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