Tristan by Thomas Mann is a descriptive novella where it begins the plot with description of the building (the setting) within first paragraph. The narrator is a third person point of view; it knows a lot of information about the character but from the length, details, and dictions of explanation narrator gives, we can see its act and side towards the characters. Narrator knows Spinell best, though the description of him is not good, but narrator can explain his thought and perception which other characters do not know. On the other side, the narrator has special attitude toward Gabriele as the main woman character. It gives good description which clearly explains the elegance yet delicateness of her.
In the first part of story, narrator explains about several minor characters. It is very details in appearance and the activities they usually do in Einfried, the sanitarium which does not like a place for people who get serious illness. It is more a place for high class society in Europe who wants to spend their time far away from the city.
Narrator pointed out two characters who live in Einfried with no illness; the first one is an English family who live there because have no other place to stay, and Spinell who really likes the authentic Empire style of sanitarium and only do writing there. This case explains the situation and social symptom back then in Europe when the story happened and it is the reason why Mr. Kloterjahn leaves Gabriele alone in Einfried; he prefer to run his business and take care of Anton in the city.
Illness is one of significant aspect of this story because the main setting itself is in the sanitarium and not that consumptives are the only ones who check themselves in there (Mann, pg. 12). One of main character, Gabriele, suffers a lung ailment and also her mentor, Mrs. Spatz has an ear problem. Narrator divides the illness into serious cases and minor cases; the serious one is identical with death and isolated. While the minor cases are distinguish by the doctor who handles it. Dr. Leander, is the first character described as always the director of the institution (pg. 11) who personally take over Gabriele’s treatment without consulting the case with Dr. Muller first, on the other side there is Muller, a physician for minor cases, he is rarely mentioned, and of no concern; but in the end Dr. Leander transferred his responsibility of Gabriele’s case to Dr. Muller who in his gentle way dutifully and contractually took over her care. (pg. 41)
In Tristan, the illness is an unspeakable thing. The narrator never specifies what kind of serious cases is, and what minor cases consist of. It is taboo for people at that time to say the words such as lung, trachea, and other illness. Perhaps it is because he wants to elude the ‘serious case’ and so the death.
At the end of the story we know that Gabriele got lungs but her husband was pretending she only suffered the trachea and continuously avoided the fact that she had serious problem. For example, Mr. Kloterjahn ordered his wife to not clear the throat simply because he wants to make the illusion that symptom Gabriele had is trachea’s sign, not lungs. It also has something to do with Dr. Hinzpeter, the family physician; he made suggestion by using word trachea instead of lungs to describe Gabriele’s illness. He found that trachea had more comforting, calming, almost uplifting effect on everyone’s spirits than lungs did. When the lung is mentioned, Mr. Kloterjahn seems so scared and shocked.
There are many ellipses within the story. They are in everyone line; even the narrator uses this sign. Therefore, it is quite difficult to estimate what the ellipses for, but remembering the setting of time and the place (Europe), potentially the ellipses are used to cover the things they do not really want to share or say. Or it could be the limitation of the narrator, where it is not the third person omniscient. There are some things narrator cannot or should not know.
In the second part when Kloterjahn arrived in Einfried, Mr. Kloterjahn reminded Gabriele to keep her lips closed. It is whether to prevent the virus or it was a warning for Gabriele as a woman to keep her attitude. However the narrator describes that Gabriele talks openly and amicably with her beautiful wide mouth, but she still follows every words of her husband with the handkerchief which she always bring and use to close her mouth every time she clear her throat. (pg. 14)
In every interaction and conversation among the Kloterjahn, we see that Gabriele is a docile wife for Mr. Kloterjahn. She obeys his command and his husband treats her like a porcelain doll, very careful and gentle. Actually there is no conversation between them. Every time Mr. Kloterjahn says a line, there is no Gabriele who responds it; the connection between them is like one-way conversation. So do Gabriele. Most of her lines involve Mr. Spinell as the opponent, and not her husband.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the narrator of Tristan explores Spinell a lot, and it also shows its preference into Spinell’s side by the description it gives to Kloterjahn Junior as selfish and vigorous little creature who had cost his mother much suffering and a minor tracheal condition (pg. 21). Spinell has a negatively tendency toward that boy, perhaps because of the sickness Gabriele had after delivering and Spinell blames that child as another factor of her mother changing. The main factor which makes Gabriele different from Spinell’s image of her in the garden is Mr. Kloterjahn; this is why Spinell sent him a furious letter then the climax happened when they were both arguing each other.
Narrator also treats Gabriele specially compared with other characters, as Spinell does. It never mention ‘Gabriele’, instead it says ‘Mrs. Kloterjahn’ or ‘Mr. Kloterjahn’s wife’. It shows the narrator regards Gabriele as a lady and honored. On the other side, it also can determine Gabriele’s position after her marriage with her husband where she is no longer ‘Gabriele’ and her identity is known as her husband name which is Kloterjahn. It means she lost her significance because people should recognize her through ‘Mrs. Kloterjahn’ and not through her father name or maiden name. This is first cause of Spinell’s anger to Mr. Kloterjahn; that he removed Gabriele’s power and control of herself then replaced it with his authority upon her via their marriage.
After the name fade-away to nothing, all Gabiele has then is her own body, and this is becomes the second cause, where Mr. Spinell hates Anton Kloterjahn Jr. The day Anton came out of his mother, the disease replaced his place and came into Gabriele’s body. So it indicates the moment when there are other two things (husband name and illness) from outside her body replaced her possession (maiden name and son). As the result, she lost her authority of her properties.
Since those terrible days, however, she had never regained her strength, assuming, that is, that she’d ever had any. She had barely left the maternity bed, when, extremely exhausted, extremely low on vital energy, she had coughed up a little blood. Oh, not much, an insignificant drop. It would have been better, though; if it had never happened, and evens more worrisome was the recurrence of this disturbing little incident not long afterward. (Mann, pg. 16)
In the end, after all sufferings as cause of giving birth Gabriele should struggle against the lungs while in contrary her son, Anton, is rosy and white, dressed in clean fresh clothes, fat and fragrant, he weighed heavily on the bare red arm of his gold-braided nanny, devouring great quantities of milk and diced meat, howling and indulging his every instinct. (pg. 43). Spinell really dislike him that he always tries to evade from meeting him in path.
Narrator’s description of things, situation, and people within this story is very specific, details like women tell story. The description emphasizes the aesthetics and also shows the femininity of the speaker. It often uses scenic and fine words to explain. Likewise, Detlev Spinell who is a writer in this story also uses aesthetics in word or phrase whenever he talks with Gabriele (only).
Several times the narrator uses same description for Gabriele in the time she feels happy. It is very details just like Spinell who really pays attention to Gabriele. Narrator saw that Gabriele laughed so heartily that the little blue vein above her eyebrow stood out with alarming prominence, giving her sweet, delicate face a certain deeply unsettling expression of strain and exertion (pg. 26) when she and Spinell talked about her husband’s name, when she met Kloterjahn the first time, and when she wanted to marry him. These three events earmark the connection between Gabriele and her husband is well actually. Sometimes it is just Spinell and the narrator who give an effect as if they both are not meant to be.
In section 8, the most intimate event between Gabriele and Spinell occurred; when Spinell can successfully bring back ‘Gabriele’ not ‘Mrs. Kloterjahn’ through the piano and act out the Tristan und Isolde. This is the moment when Gabriele tries to get the authority of her back but as the consequence, she suffers a loss of all her power and energy in the next day.
From the letter Spinell had sent to Mr. Kloterjahn, we can assume that he tried to help Gabriele to point out her significance again as he once imagined when Gabriele was in the garden with her friends. He also supported her to play piano (again) so she can remember what it felt to have her authority back. In contrary, all these efforts and words Spinell did to Gabriele are the exact thing that Kloterjahn did. Spinell also wants to replace Mr. Kloterjahn position and take over the control of Gabriele. In purpose to make her becomes his own, not Mrs. Kloterjahn anymore. It is shown from the letter that Spinell compares what he already did with Gabriele, and what Kloterjahn did not. What her husband had missed, and what Spinell had found.
Apparently, since the day she married and childbearing (the natural and physical activities of women) Gabriele had totally lost the self-authority, which is the freedom to do activities just like playing piano when she was maiden, the right to choose where she wants to live (because she was in Einfried as Mr. Kloterjahn told her to do so), the freedom to live among the family because she lived with strangers in sanatorium, also is no longer known as Gabriele, her maiden name, but as Mr. Kloterjahn’wife. Even Spinell said that the letter is nothing but an act of revenge; it cannot disguise his purpose in taking Gabriele away from her husband. As he regards Mr. Kloterjahn as his enemy, there is a battle between them and imagination plus words are his weapons; that is the moment when Spinell asserts that he has power upon Gabriele, just like Mr. Kloterjahn.
Mann, T. (1999). Tristan. Middlesex: Signet Classic, Penguin Group.