Beneath the Wheel
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After that, I started to value my personal and emotional growth over blind and directionless academic growth. It tells the story of Hans Geibenrath, a boy of genius intellect that was sent to a seminary in order to study. All of his life, he has never participated much in childhood activities when his town has decided the path that he should take. When other boys in his town were fishing or swimming, he was studying hard. The result was he lost his childhood at such an early age and that he finds that he cannot properly adapt to his situation.
During his stay in the seminary, he was a model student in the running for the top spot in the class. Heilner, because of his rebellious nature, is expelled and Hans is sent back home because his studies has taken a turn for the worse as he was diagnosed with mental sickness. Hans then becomes an apprentice blacksmith and takes pride in his difficult work and he also experienced the joy and pains of love. However, the story ends in tragedy, as Hans gets drunk, falls into a river, and dies. The novel has a pastoral air as it Hesse describes the countryside with beautiful precision.
Only the rebellious Heilner has provided him with the reprieve that Hans deserves but even that has ended tragically. The novel may be a comment on how society values an education that concentrates solely on academic achievement. Memorizing equations, dates, and facts without really pursuing the greater meaning of everything that they study in order for the students to better themselves emotionally.
Beneath the Wheel by Hermann Karl Hesse | Bubblin Superbooks
A life of study in order to have access to further study seems pointless. Life, as the countryside seems to imply in the book, is meant to be enjoyed yet the authorities in the novel are forcing young people like Hans to forget about life and instead sacrifice themselves to the blind pursuit of the academe. Death is also a central theme of the novel. Death is uncertain and does not play favorites.
One of the most moving parts of the book was when a classmate of Hans died without making any friends because of his studies and when the father of the departed asked the class about who is closest to his son and nobody came forward, the father broke down. Maybe because the father realized that he led his son to a life of pure intellect without any semblance of friendship and, at the death of his son, it is already too late to start.
Death also took Hans in the end and his potential was never realized and he lived a very unhappy life with only a few happy moments in between.
However, I can only rate this novel three stars because the narrative was tedious. The narrator was always going into monologues that should be more appropriate in philosophical treatises and not novels. And the way that the narrator describes the German countryside, although beautiful in its prose, is overwrought and unnecessary. This may be one of the few novels that I read where my main complaint was because of the third-person omniscient narrator.
She had been dead for years and no one remembered anything special about her, except that she had always been sickly and unhappy. As for coming from the father, that was out of the question. For once it seemed that a spark from above had struck this old hamlet which, in the eight or nine centuries of its existence, had produced many a stalwart citizen but never a great talent or genius.
Beneath the Wheel
A trained observer, taking note of the sickly mother and the considerable age of the family, might have speculated about hypertrophy of the intelligence as a symptom of incipient degeneration. But the little town was fortunate in not having anyone so trained in its midst; only the younger and more clever civil servants and teachers had heard uncertain rumors or read magazine articles about the existence of modern man.
It was possible to live in this town and give the appearance of being educated without knowing the speeches in Zarathustra. The long-established and well-to-do citizens, many of whom had risen from the rank of artisan to manufacturer within the last twenty years, doffed their hats to the officials and sought their company, but behind their backs spoke of them as pen-pushers and poor bureaucrats. Yet they had no higher ambition for their sons than a course of study that would enable them to become civil servants. Unfortunately, this was almost always a pipe dream, because their offspring often had great difficulty getting through grammar school and frequently had to repeat the same form.
Teachers, principal, neighbors, pastor, fellow students and everyone else readily admitted that he was an exceptionally bright boy—something special. Thus his future was mapped out, for in all of Swabia there existed but one narrow path for talented boys—that is, unless their parents were wealthy. Year after year three to four dozen boys took the first steps on this safe and tranquil path—thin, overworked, recently confirmed boys who followed the course of studies in the humanities at the expense of the state, eight or nine years later embarking on the second and longer period of their life when they were supposed to repay the state for its munificence.
The state examination was to be held in a matter of weeks. This annual hecatomb, during which the state took the pick of the intellectual flower of the country, caused numerous families in towns and villages to direct their sighs and prayers at the capital. Hans Giebenrath was the only candidate our little town had decided to enter in the arduous competition. It was a great but by no means undeserved honor. Every day, when Hans completed his classwork at four in the afternoon, he had an extra Greek lesson with the principal; at six, the pastor was so kind as to coach him in Latin and religion.
Twice a week, after supper, he received an extra math lesson from the mathematics teacher. In Greek, next to irregular verbs, special emphasis was placed on the syntactical connections as expressed by the particles. In Latin the onus rested on a clear and pithy style and, above all, on mastering the many refinements of prosody.
In mathematics the main emphasis was on especially complicated solutions. Arriving at these solutions, the teacher insisted, was not as worthless for future courses of study as might appear, for they surpassed many of his main subjects in providing him with the basis for sober, cogent and successful reasoning. The catechism and the stimulating lessons by rote introduced into the young soul a refreshing whiff of religious life.
Unfortunately, Hans lessened the potential benefit of these revivifying hours by concealing in his catechism surreptitious lists of Greek and Latin vocabulary and exercises, and devoting the entire hour to these worldly sciences.
His conscience was not so blunted that he did not feel uneasiness and fear, for when the deacon stepped up to him, or even called on him, he invariably flinched; and when he had to give an answer, he would break into a sweat and his heart would palpitate. Yet his answers were perfectly correct, as was his pronunciation, something which counted heavily with the deacon. The assignments that accumulated from lesson to lesson during the course of the day he was able to complete later in the evening, at home, in the kindly glow of his lamp.
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Though his father grumbled a little about the immoderate consumption of kerosene, he nonetheless regarded all this studying with a deep sense of personal satisfaction. During leisure hours on Sundays, which, after all, make up a seventh part of our lives, Hans had been urged to do outside reading and to review the rules of grammar. Everything with moderation, of course. Going for an occasional walk is necessary and does wonders, the teacher said.
If the weather is fine, you can even take a book along and read in the open. Above all, keep your chin up. So Hans kept his chin as high as he could, and from that time on used his walks for studying. He could be seen walking quietly and timorously, with a nightworn face and tired eyes. He will, he most certainly will, exclaimed the principal joyously. Just look at him. During the last week, this intellectualization of the boy had become noticeable. Deep-set, uneasy eyes glowed dimly in his handsome and delicate face; fine wrinkles, signs of troubled thinking, twitched on his forehead, and his thin, emaciated arms and hands hung at his side with the weary gracefulness reminiscent of a figure by Botticelli.
The time was close at hand. Tomorrow morning he was to go to Stuttgart with his father and show the state whether he deserved to enter the narrow gate of the academy.
He had just paid the principal a farewell visit. This evening, the feared administrator informed him with unusual mildness, "you must not so much as think of a book. Promise me. You have to be as fresh as a daisy when you arrive in Stuttgart. Young people have to have their sleep. Hans was astonished to be the object of so much solicitude instead of the usual sally of admonitions, and he gave a sigh of relief as he left the school building. The big linden trees on the hill next to the church glowed wanly in the heat of the late afternoon sun.
The fountains in the market square splashed and glistened. The blue-black fir and spruce-covered mountains rose up sharply behind the jagged line of roofs. The boy felt as if he had not seen any of this for a long time, and all of it struck him as unusually beautiful. True, he had a headache, but he did not have to study any more today. He whiled away the time walking back and forth and finally sat down on the broad balustrade. For months on end he had passed this spot four times a day without as much as glancing at the small gothic chapel by the bridge, the river, the sluice gate, the dam or the mill, not even at the bathing meadow or the shore lined with willow trees where one tannery adjoined the other, where the river was as deep and green and tranquil as a lake and where the thin willow branches arched into the water.
He remembered how many hours, how many days and half days he had spent here, how often he had gone swimming or dived, rowed and fished here.
Yes, fishing! Going fishing! That had been the best part of his school years.