The short story “Little Zaches, Great Zinnober” was written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1819. The main idea of the work was a satirical depiction of the social world order of Germany at the beginning of the 19th century and ridicule of individual vices characteristic of all mankind.
The plot is driven by fairy-tale characters – the fairy Rosabelverde, who has lived in a tiny picturesque principality since the reign of Prince Demetrius, who is supportive of miracles, and Dr. Prosper Alpanus, a world-famous wizard who skillfully disguised himself as an ordinary scientist during the enlightenment, when the son of Demetrius was enlightened by the son of Demetrius.
The past of a small state (until 1871 Germany was a country consisting of small principalities) is idyllic and romantic: subjects of Prince Demetrius live in harmony with nature and miracles; the present of the “enlightened” world is sadly reasonable: people are afraid of everything unusual and subordinate nature to their needs (cut down forests, make rivers navigable, etc.), often self-serving. Magical creatures do not fit into the modern world, not because they can violate its foundations by their very existence, but solely because of the inability to obey the laws – for example, on excise taxes (for those traveling on land and water, you can set boundaries, but what to do with those “Which are capable of dropping any duty-free goods into a chimney to any frivolous citizen?”).
The artistic space of the work is an “enlightened” reality, inside of which there are separate sections of the magical past: either in the format of a fairy-tale creature disguised as an ordinary person (fairy Rosabelverde – Canoness Rosenchen) or in the form of a fenced private territory (estate of Prosper Alpanus). You can penetrate the essence of the miraculous in two ways: using magic objects (Prosper Alpanus’s lorgnet, which allows you to see three fiery hairs on Zinnober’s head) or your own soul (Balthazar sees magic in Prosper Alpanus’s house, but his friend Fabian doesn’t). The latter, according to the author’s intention, must have a poetic nature, since only the Poet can be considered a true resident of the country of Fantasy (roll call with the “Golden Pot”).
The measured life of the principality is disturbed by the appearance in Kerepes of a new student – a former little freak, the son of a poor peasant Lisa, named “Little Zaches”. Endowed with a magical gift to appropriate the virtues of those with whom he is close, the hero quickly passes the path of exaltation – from a capable student to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Zinnober. The outward ugliness of Little Zaches, reminiscent of a “strange stump of a clumsy tree” with “spider legs”, is completely replaced by the beauty of others just like slurred speech becomes clear, and bad manners become beautiful.
Balthazar – the only one of the characters in the short story sees the Little Zaches as he is; other heroes are subject to magical troubles: they unconditionally accept the perfect Zinnober and fall into easy bewilderment only when he “steals” their own virtues (in music, in experiments, in the exam, etc.). Balthazar’s friend, the referendum Pulcher, whom Little Zaches deprived of his secret forwarding position at the Foreign Ministry, at first cannot believe that this happened miraculously. The young man suggests that Zinnober achieved an increase, like everyone else, through a bribe. Denial of the miraculous in the fate of the Little Zaches carries a deep symbolic connotation – the author thus shows that in a society worshiping money and power, any ugly little man can become a wonderful young man, full of various talents. The modern world, according to Hoffmann, does not need magic to see in a person what is not in him: a high position and wealth will provide him with universal honor.
Adoration of the powers that be is ridiculed by the author on the example of the same Little Zaches, who appears before the reader not only as the best violin virtuoso, but also as a unique monkey from the zoological office. Such a grotesque shows the absurdity of existing social norms moving towards self-destruction – the death of the illustrious Minister Zinnober occurs for three reasons: fear of an angry mob (true), the wearing of the Order of the Green-Spotted Tiger, which led to the deformation of the body (excessive duty burden) and termination breathing as a result of falling into a silver toilet vessel (merit paid).
Romantic two-worlds, manifested in the contrast and simultaneous interpenetration of the real and magical worlds, are adjacent to the novel “social doubles”. The separation of the student stratum within society allows the author to show the difference between free-thinking people and philistines – those who are used to leading a calm Burger lifestyle, filled with simple worldly pleasures.
The classic representative of the philistine in the short story is Professor Mosh-Terpin, who seems to be studying wildlife, but seeing in it only the dead laws of physics. The poet Balthazar, who perceives nature as a continuation of the wizarding world, endures his teacher solely because of love for his lovely daughter Candide. The latter is drawn by the author as a cheerful and laid-back girl, in which one can find both love for German classical literature (though successfully forgotten over time) and a very legible and subtle handwriting, which is the best suited for recording “laundry assigned to washing”.
The wedding of Balthazar and Candida (according to Fibian, a girl completely unsuitable in nature for the first) symbolizes the close interweaving of dreams and reality and is presented with a share of romantic irony. The family life of young people is conceived in the framework of the magical space of the Prosper Alpanus estate, which gives them everyday things as miracles – good weather for washing clothes, unbreakable dishes, the most delicious fruits from the garden. Fairy Rosabelverde gives the bride a more romantic, but nonetheless mundane gift – a magical necklace that allows you to always maintain a good mood.