UBC Theses and Dissertations
The Theme of failed life in the stories of Adalbert Stifter Schulze, Alfred Hartwig
Although in his works Adalbert Stifter often focused attention on harmonious and fulfilled life, he did not avoid depicting the negative sides of human existence. He repeatedly portrayed characters who experience much suffering and who never reach the contented state of being they seek. Their lives must clearly be deemed failures. This study attempts to identify and analyze the theme of failed life in the writer's narratives. Particular emphasis is placed on his early prose, that is, the stories written or conceived before 1848, because meaningless life plays a dominant role in many of them. The circumstances of the protagonists who fail to find fulfilment in life show remarkable similarities. They are condemned to live out their lives in isolation without the hope of deliverance. Not only are they cut off from the world, but they also have no spouse or descendants at their side. The absence of children makes them much more readily the prey of passing time. More often than not they pursue no meaningful activities. The immediate cause of their decline may be one or several crises which they encounter and cannot overcome. The characters are unable to surmount the crises because they exhibit serious shortcomings; they do not become the victims of arbitrary fate. With few exceptions the most important of these negative traits is unrestrained passion. Passion is more than just an overpowering sensual desire; it is also the source of anger, egoism, lust for power and violence. Eccentric behaviour and spiritual shortsightedness may be further elements leading to catastrophe. A distorted education or the complete absence of one can also contribute to the protagonists' decline. Stifter's prose contains a number of figures who cannot be counted failing characters in spite of the fact that they are denied complete fulfilment in life. They are the individuals who, because they are only partially successful in overcoming their crises, must resign themselves to a less desirable position in life than they had hoped to achieve.
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