Reconsiderations October 2011
Comedy in “The Magic Mountain”
On Thomas Mann’s sense of humor.
Thomas Mann’s reputation as a difficult, ponderous, heavyweight novelist, and the erudite allusions, serious subject matter, and philosophical themes of The Magic Mountain (1924) have led readers to ignore the comic and satiric tone that enlivens his morbid novel. His method is very different from the somber and solemn way most authors—like Tolstoy, Gide, and Solzhenitsyn—write about disease and death. Mann’s dark comedy, tinged with fear and disgust, takes place in the luxurious remote enclosed society of the International Sanatorium Berghof. He indicates the magic of the place with a witty game of recurring numbers. The young, naïve Hans Castorp, who leaves his ordinary life in Hamburg to visit his tubercular cousin Joachim Ziemssen, generates much of the comedy. Hans gradually progresses from incomprehension to knowledge and to eager acceptance of the distorted medical, social, and sexual customs on the magic...
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