Family Saga in Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks and Buchi Emechita’s The Family

Buddenbrooks

The family

1. Setting: Leubeck, north Germany 1835-1878

1. Jamaica & London, England

2. Characters: bourgeois/ merchant class/ middle class

2. Poor/servants/ laborers/ working class

3. Story of 4 generations of Buddenbrooks a. Johann Buddenbrook b. Johann Buddenbrook c. Consul Johann Buddenbrook d. Thomas Buddenbrook e. Little Johann Buddenbrook

3. Story of 3 generation a. Granny Naomi b. Mammy Sonia c. Gwendolen

4. Patriarchal family

4. Matriarchal family

5. Patrician/ luxurious lifestyle

5. Simple/ poor taste

6. Tension between music (arts) and business

6. Tension between education and survival

7. Intertwined beliefs on Protestantism and Catholicism

7. Intertwined beliefs on African religion and protestantism

8. Legacy of prestige on keeping and staying in the homeland

8. Prestige on departure the homeland

9. Culture shock on departure from the homeland

9. Culture shock on staying in the homeland and departure from the homeland

10. Trauma caused by physical diseases, divorce, mental problems.

10. Trauma caused by betrayal of trust, rape/ incest

11. Inability of characters to adapt future shocks on social, political and economic change of the times.

11. Inability of characters to adapt future shocks on economic change

12. Downfall of characters was caused by extravagance and inability to adapt to changes

12. Downfall of characters was caused by extravagance and jealousy

13. Death/ diseases in the family: senility, stroke, pneumonia, mental disorder typhoid, tooth decay

13. Death/ diseases in the family: fall from the ladder, mental disorder

14. Concept of clannishness: clannish

14. Divided/ nuclear family

15. Disintegration of family:caused by deaths, selfishness, fraudulence, individual differences of chracters: a. Thomas b. Tony c. Christian d. Gerda e. Little Johann

15. Disintegration of the family: death of the father Winston and selfishness of the mother Sonia

16. Enlightenment/ salvation/ redemption of characters comes by acceptance of fate and faith

16. Enlightenment/ salvation/ redemption of characters comes by acceptance of fate and hope

17. Style/ language of the author: lofty or exquisite language, descriptive details of events and characters, use of actual places and historical allusions to germany’s politician change, suspenseful narration, used third person omniscient narrator

17. Realistic description, used first person narrator “Gwendolen”

Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks is a novel that testifies to the glorious, beautiful and luxurious Germany in the 19th century when she undergoes abrupt, fast and offensive political, social and economic change. The story is set from 1835 to 1878 that even dates back from 1778 from the time the Buddenbrook patriarch established the granary firm passed on different generation only to be sold and liquidated after the third generation, Thomas Buddenbrook’s untimely death. The main period of time considered covers 1835 to 1877, and thus includes some of the most dramatic episodes of 19th-century German history: the Revolutions of 1848, the Austro-Prussian War, the North German Confederation, and the establishment of the German Empire). All these historical events were alluded in many extravagant and lavish dinners in the Buddenbrooks’ ancestral house by their business and political foes and allies.

Buchi Emechita’s tragic bildungsroman of the main character Gwendolen reflects African-Jamaican diaspora to London, England in the late 19th century as she (England) moves fast to industrialization, hence, needing more workers from the marginalized, colonized Africa. Her parents moved to London for a better life or even greener pasture.

While the main characters in Buddenbrooks are mainly the bourgeoisie class, the merchants, the businessmen with the like of the 4 Buddenbrook patriarchs, affecting the economy and society of Germany, The Family has poor, uneducated African laborers and servants as moral or immoral agents. Johann Buddenbrook amassed wealth from his hardwork, shared the biggest stock in the firm and was able to bequeath it to his son, another Johann Buddenbrook. The second generation married Elizabeth Kroger, from a wealthy business clan of the Krogers. The family wished to expand the family by marrying only the rich business families to continue the legacy of affluence and prestige of the Buddenbrooks. They were blessed with four children Antonie or Tony, Thomas, Christian and Clara as third generation Buddenbrooks. With Krogers and Buddenbrooks, there can only be beautiful, luxurious, lavish food on the table every day. And because they are revered, if not envied by their neighbors, more visitors are welcome to the never-ending sumptuous and aromatic table of the family. Pastors, nuns, businessmen and politicians dined together on a patrician ambience daily. The patriarch Consul Buddenbrook delights on welcoming important people. The family keeps a diary of their daily successes and happy moments. When Consul died one rainy night, Thomas was given the authority to lead the family and become the head of the firm. The legacy was carried on. Tony was married; Christian went to Valparaiso, Chile to enjoy himself while Clara was growing up. Thomas made life better for the Buddenbrooks. She got married to the most beautiful woman, Gerda Arnoldesen, former schoolmate of Tony, who was inclined to music, played the violin and played duet with her father, Consul Arnoldsen, also a millionaire. Things got rough along the way as Tony fell in love and got divorced from the fraud Grunlich who pretended to be rich but a real bankrupt. Her divorce led to another divorce, this time with another fraud Permaneder whom she met in the romantic city of Munich while mending a broken heart cause by her first husband… Tony became a talk of the town with her failed marriages.

On the other hand, way back in Jamaica, Granny Naomi, Sonia and Gwendolen needed to work in the Bee farm, dug yams early in the morning to bring food on their table. Life was poor and hard in their rich land. Sonia helped hard her mother Naomi while Gwendolen played around. Her grandmother was feisty in calling her to help. The matriarch is always followed. Sonia could not resist her mother lest they get hungry. Uncle Johnny, her mother’s best friend would help sometimes in the farm or when the crop was not good would dole out food and money on Naomi. And because life was poor in Jamaica, even at Gwendolens young age, her father Winston went to England, as they called it the ‘Moder Kountry”. Eventually he got his wife Sonia to England. Gwendolen and Granny Naomi were left in Jamaica to suffer for seven years. This abandonment caused Gwendolen’s lifetime trauma. Her trusted Uncle Johnny, for many nights raped her when she was only eight years old… She wished she could leave Jamaica to forget the shameful repetitive nights. When she told Granny Naomi, she confronted Uncle Johnny who gradually distanced from them. Until she was also invited by her parents to live in England. A relief indeed for the precocious and beleaguered Gwendolen. Her departure Jamaica led to series of unfortunate events. Her color, her hair, her language were totally different. She was estranged, alienated. She felt only solace with her mother. Her new brothers Ronald and Marcus made fun of her African accent. She was forced to study as the British Law required of the parents. Sonia’s primary idea was to get Gwendolen as “pikney” or as a helper to her so she could work as well part time. She had to give in. Life was likewise difficult in London. They paid for everything, for the house rent, food and utilities. Gwendolen had to skip school to take care of her siblings. With her Granny’s death way back in Jamaica, her mother Sonia rushed to her mother. Gwendolen was left to be responsible for her family. Her father who became a protestant charismatic preacher longed for his wife Sonia. Until one night, he raped Gwendolen, his own daughter who he never had paternal closeness due to his long absence before. He discovered she was not a virgin anymore and she revealed how she was raped at an early age by Uncle Johnny. This incestuous affair continued for two years in the absence of Sonia who lamented her mother’s demise. She felt, paradoxically for the first time, to be free. Without her husbanded, her children, she felt a new woman without responsibilities. She squandered her mother’s money to buy new clothes and travelled everywhere until she grew weary and missed her family. Her return to England was totally different. Her husband was passive; Gwendolen was caught sleeping with a Greek boy James. She protested on the impossibility of incidents. Her intuition summoned her to discover that there was something wrong with her husband. In the congregation, nobody told the truth. Gwendolen became pregnant with James as the suspected unwanted father. The truth, it was her father who impregnated her. She kept it to herself. Winston decided to die as fell from a ladder while fixing a gas tank. Gwendolen escaped her family on the fear of spilling the truth who would like to protect her father. She was place in a mental asylum where she delivered small baby whom she named Iyamide which means Mommy will always be here. Sonia’s attitude and behavior towards her daughter changed. She hated her more especially when the last will of her husband was read. She would only get 10% of the total while the children divided the inheritance. The maternal love was replaced by hate. She decided to kill Sonia in her new apartment, but when she saw her “grandchild” Iyamide, whose features were like that of her husband, she was taken aback and weakly threw the knife in the trash bin. Gwendolen could only hope for the best where she would give the best for her child.

Noteworthy to say was the Buddenbrooks dislike or disinclination to music. When Gerda, the violin player married the merchant Thomas, people thought it was a perfect match. But within their marriage, Thomas could not understand his wife who always had a headache, never liked socialization, rubbing elbows with the businessmen. She would always go back to her room and play her violin. Her friend, Herr Pful provided her only joy. Playing duet together, Herr Pful would play the piano while she would play her violin. Thomas only child, Little Johannn to his dismay had no inclination for numbers and business, rather he was more alive in listening to music until he learned to play the piano. He got his mother’s skills and gift for music. This rift for business and music gave him more distance to his wife and child.

In terms of education, Sonia was comfortable in maintaining Gwendolen, her daughter, ignorant. She only wanted her to be of help in the house. Granny Naomi never went to school and yet they survived. Hence, she also wanted her daughter to survive. Education was not important for their survival. She wanted to work, work and work like her husband Winston. This conflict between education and survival was Sonia’s problem except that the law required her to send Gwendolen to school. She became helpless.

Both the Buddenbrooks and Gwendolens family had the affinity to tolerate different religions. Elizabeth Buddenbrooks would entertain Christian, Catholics. And other religious people to lead them to prayer. They were Protestant merchants who were working so hard and they see that they can continue to hold the farmers, the poor and others whom they can be compassionate. The children who were confused with their Catholic Catechism and Protestant practice could only laugh at their parents. And yet on each character’s death, Elizabeth, Consul Buddenbrook and even Thomas’ death, each turned to believe on the human creator.

Gwendolen and her Granny enjoyed going to the Pentecostal Sunday church and yet believed on the chi, the spirits, and the egwugwu.

The patriarchs of the Buddenbrooks from the first Johann to the fourth generation never wanted to leave their homeland, Luebech. Their prestige, legacy and honor were rested on their business. To maintain, to keep and to die in the homeland is to glorify the past. Even Tony was almost at fault with her too much pride for the family’s legacy. She never wanted to sell the ancestral house for that would destroy the name her grandparents left for them, as what her knowledge of the diary was concerned. Only Christian, the third in the family wanted to leave the house and lived a prodigal sons’ life of drinking, womanizing and talking nonsense. Van at the hour of his death, he was proud and arrogant.

In contrary, Granny wanted to leave Jamaica but could not because she had to till the land. Sonia left for London with her husband but failed. Gwendolen the third generation left for England failed but hoped in the end.

The culture shock in the Buddenbrook family was tremendous when their business was gradually declining. Thomas could no longer succeed within the changes of time. With wars, political unrest, revolution of the working class and the change on the economic trend (from the usual agricultural to industrial) from mercantilism to capitalism, Thomas felt defeated. With his eccentric wife and child, with ton’s divorces, Christian’s indifference to family business and his mother’s death, he could only wish to die. The future shock was unbearable for he was not ready for change. Future change. He wanted to salvage the ancestral business but things were changing. Even if he became a senator, his brilliance for business was lost. His self concept of firmness and dignity were gone. After tooth extraction, he hell on the ground and died.

Gwendolen’s departure from Jamaica and her arrival to England was painful and traumatic. She left the trauma of rape in Jamaica but was raped by her father in England. There was no safe place for her. There were no trustworthy males around her. Even her maligning brothers and neighbors, landlords were all obnoxious. James, the outsider, different also from Londoners was the only one who loved and understood her. She wanted to keep his friendship in the end.

The diseases and causes of deaths in the family were series of misfortunes. From the senility of the dignified first generation Buddenbrook, to the peaceful death of Johann Buddenbrook, pneumonia of Elizabeth, tooth decay that led to stroke of Thomas and typhoid of the 4th generation Little Johann were history of their decadence, decline to poverty. Their inability to adapt to change left them in the quagmire of desolation and indifference to a fast changing world caused by Western Industrial revolution.

Their gradual disintegration as Buddenbrook family, aside from diseases and deaths were also caused by too much rationalism. Thomas calculated everything from a business point of view, losing emotion and reason for everything. She could not understand his mother why she would consent to give Christian too much money, he despised Christian’s prodigious ways, he abhorred Toni’s divorces and he lamented his wife’s eerie and strange character. He was disappointed with his son who was not like him, smart, witty and a businessman. His true and paternal sight for his family was blurred by his all-business attitude and rationalization.

In the end, we see characters fell apart. Thomas died, Johann died, and Christian was in the asylum while Tony, together with her daughter Erika and grandchild Elizabeth was living in a flat outside their ancestral home which was bought by their family rival the Hagenstrom.

Max Weber studied the German behavior, economy and religion. He found out that because of Industrial revolution, men suffered a lot, becoming like machines, dehumanized and felt dejected, alienated from their society and suffered the “iron cage”. Thomas. The third Buddenbrook became a victim of this social and economic change which he was not able to fit in and surpass. He hated the advent of a new economy. He resisted the rise of a new class. Yet all around him were change. He only found solace, peace on the idea of death.

The concept of trust vs. mistrust was very obvious in the life of Gwendolen. At her young age, she was betrayed by her unsuspicious uncle and was even raped by her most trusted person, her father.

The family, the basic unit of society, whose main role is to provide food, shelter, to nurture the basic emotions of love and trust is an important element. Other institutions like school and religion play a secondary significant development of a person.

The Buddenbrooks were well nurtured people with their strong g family ties except for their blinding quest for business. Gwendolen’s family eroded the pure concept of a family.



Source by Wilfredo M. Valois

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