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Thesis (M.A.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln, 1951. Department of Germanic Languages.


Copyright 1951, the author. Used by permission.


The life of Heinrich von Kleist – the German poet, playwright, and novelist – is the story of an unceasing exploration of the dichotomy between the individual and the community. This analysis traces the transformation of Kleist’s perspective and focuses on the following major works: the tragedies Die Familie Schroffenstein and Penthesilea, which reflect Kleist’s negative attitude toward the community; the novella Michael Kohlhaas, which marks a turning point away from an individualistic worldview; and the dramas Die Hermannsschlacht and Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, which reflect Kleist’s embrace of the community.

This overview of Kleist’s life and works reveals a development that divides his entire output into two distinct periods. In the first, Kleist is a man and artist whose whole energy is aimed at the self, with the ultimate goal being the assertion of individuality. A transition follows, where the dignity of the individual and the dignity of the community are of equal rank, but ideologically, the new conviction remains ungrounded. In the second period, Kleist appears as an ardent fighter for the common cause, a believer in the self-determination of the people, and a patriot in the pursuit of the liberation of Germany from foreign, Napoleonic rule.

Advisor: W. K. Pfeiler