Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Thomas Mann's Tonio Kroger: A Study of the Protagonist's Emergence from the Schizoid to the Depressive Position

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Thomas Mann's Tonio Kroger: A Study of the Protagonist's Emergence from the Schizoid to the Depressive Position

Article excerpt

The protagonist of Thomas Mann's novella Tonio Kroger is examined in terms of object-relational theory. This approach z's briefly compared with the interpretation that might be offered by structural theorists. Kroger, the son of an authoritarian and prototypical Germanic father and an artistic and sensuous mother from the south, is tormented by what he sees as his dual heritage. Unable to accept that he can be both an artist and a respectable member of bourgeois society, he employs splitting as a primary defense mechanism both intrapsychically and interpersonally, projecting these opposing ideologies onto others including Hans, Inge, and Lisabetta. Alternately idealizing and demonizing these characters, projections of his internal conflict, he z's unable to achieve an integrated sense of himself or others, functioning primarily in the schizoid position. His emergence from the schizoid into the more mature depressive position, having been foreshadowed in a series of dream sequences, occurs at the end of the work when he comes to accept the view that artistic impulses and bourgeois discipline are not incompatible.

In Thomas Mann's Tonio Kroger (1), we see evidence of a split in the protagonist, the conflict it causes, and its resolution as the protagonist searches for his identity as an artist and as a man, achieving maturity and self-actualization when he no longer sees the world in terms of polar opposites. While this split may be understood from a structural viewpoint as a conflict between the unconcious id and the superego, a topic that will be considered in this article, the novella best lends itself to analysis from an object-relational perspective.

Freud would explain that Tonio's struggle appears to be related to his conflict between the demands of the id, which is a "caldron full of seething excitations" of raw unstructured, impulsive energies (2, p.73 )-and is represented by Tonio's artistic impulses, of which he is often ashamedand those of the superego, which is a "set of moral values and selfcritical attitudes, largely organized around internalized parental imagoes" (3, p. 20).

The relational theorist, while acknowledging the id-superego dichotomy, would frame the conflict differently, arguing that throughout most of the novella, Tonio, still functioning in Klein's schizoid position, has not yet achieved the more mature depressive position. Hence, his splitting behavior persists on both an intrapsychic and interpersonal level, and he is unable to perceive either himself or others as integrated wholes. As Ogden explains, for someone functioning in the schizoid position, the world is one "of heroes and villains, of persecutors and victims. . . a world in which introjects are omniscient [and].. .. external objects are so thoroughly eclipsed by transference projections of his internal object world that the qualities of the external object are barely discernible" (4, p.85).

According to Klein (5), the origin of this splitting behavior, which in healthy individuals is operative only for a brief period, is the infant's inability to see his mother as a whole entity Identifying the mother with her major function, that of providing nourishment, he sees her as the good and bad breast, the nurturing and denying mother. As maturity progresses, experiences help the child to integrate his feelings. It is only when early relational experiences have been particularly troubled that the mature adult continues to see himself and/or others in terms of polar opposites.

The very name Tonio Kroger reflects the intrapsychic split in Mann's protagonist, a split that is externalized as he projects opposing aspects of himself onto others, alternately idealizing and demonizing them. The protagonist's first name, with its Latin derivation, suggests his affinity with his "beautiful black-haired" mother, "who was so absolutely different from the other ladies in the town" and came "from some place far down on the map" (l, p. …

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