“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, analysis of the tale by Hoffmann

Well-known thanks to the ballet P.I. Tchaikovsky (1892) a fairy tale was written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816. The name “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is associated with the plot basis of the work, built on the clash of two fairy kingdoms – Puppet and Mouse.

The main heroine of the tale is the daughter of a medical adviser – seven-year-old Marie Stahlbaum. The narration is conducted in two artistic spaces – real (the Stahlbaum house) and fantastic, breaking up into two fantasies (Marie – a transformed living room with revived toys and a journey through the Doll Kingdom; senior adviser to the Drosselmeyer court – “The Tale of a Hard Nut”) and uniting in a single fairy tale the plot.

What is happening with the girl is presented by Hoffmann as a real story, which each reader can explain in his own way. Authors’ appeals at the beginning of several chapters are addressed to little Fritz and Marie, that is, children who perceive everything told as truth. Adults can be satisfied with the point of view of the girl’s parents, who believe that Marie had a wonderful dream. Skeptics will like the opinion of a medical adviser and surgeon Wendelstern, who believe that the baby’s story is an ordinary fever caused by an illness. Fritz, as a representative of the older generation of children, refers to his sister’s story as a fantasy with which he himself makes his soldiers come to life. Each version of what is happening has its own right to life, but Hoffmann himself does everything so that the reader believes Marie.

One of the adult heroes of the tale is the godfather of the girl Drosselmeyer and, according to Marie, and, in his own words, belongs to two worlds at once: in real life, he is a senior adviser to the court and at the same time a skilled watchmaker and mechanic, in the fantasy one, a court wizard and watchmaker . At first, Drosselmeyer is perceived by the girl as a hostile, evil principle – she believes that under the guise of an owl, he drowned the clock and called into the living room of the Mouse King; she takes offense at him for refusing to help her nephew, who had been turned into a Nutcracker by the Mice; she is deep down in displeasure that he doesn’t stand too clearly on her side when the adults laugh at her, but the Hard Tale explains a lot to Marie, and she begins to act within her own strengths and ideas about the future of The Nutcracker.

The fantastic world of the fairy tale is brought out in a work in two time layers – the past (the story of the conflict between the royal family, the loving sausage, and the queen of mice – Myshilda, who turned the beautiful princess Pirlipat into a freak) and the present (the story of the return of the former appearance to the Nutcracker and his struggle with the seven-headed son of Myshilda) . Marie’s wonderful adventures begin on Christmas night (from December 24 to 25) and continue for at least a week and three nights: the girl spends the first seven days after an elbow injury in bed, listening to fairy tales; the next night, she gives her Mouse King her sweets in exchange for the life of the Nutcracker.

The fairy-tale world of the work periodically penetrates the Shtalbaum’s real world: parents see their daughter’s gnawed sweets, completely sincerely surprised at how this became possible, because no mice were born in their house; Marie presents adults with the seven golden crowns of the Mouse King, presented to her by the Nutcracker; the godfather Drosselmeyer brings his nephew into the house, surprisingly similar (appearance, clothes) to the young man from “The Tale of a Hard Nut”.

The puppet kingdom, along which Marie travels with the Nutcracker, is a world of sweets and is another Hoffmannian interpretation of the classic romantic symbol of an exalted dream – in this case, a childhood dream. Little Mademoiselle Stahlbaum sees around him an ideal space from the point of view of the child, whose base consists of candy, oranges, almonds, raisins, lemonade, almond milk, gingerbread, honey and sweets. The inhabitants of the Puppet Kingdom are distinguished by their amazing beauty and grace and are made of either sweets or precious metals and stones. The Christmas theme in the fairy-tale world is embodied in the form of the Christmas forest and the periodic occurrence of the number twelve (by the number of months in a year) – at the beginning in the form of twelve Arapaccas accompanying Marie and the Nutcracker on Pink Lake, then twelve pages meeting children near the Marzipan Castle. The third element of a childhood dream is flowers – for example, “magnificent bouquets of violets, daffodils, tulips, left-handed people” that adorn the main building of the Doll Kingdom.

Hoffman introduces the features inherent in real, adult life into the fantastic world of a children’s fairy tale: the image of the Confectioner, whom Marie encounters in Confetenburg, embodies the idea of ​​God, in whose power to “do whatever he wants with a person.”

The magic kingdom from The Tale of the Hard Nut has no name. It represents the world of a classic magical story about a beautiful princess, bewitched by an evil witch, with the only difference being that at the initial stage Hoffmann included his inimitable irony in it (the king is a lover of sausages, the queen is personally preparing fat for the royal spouse, the court wizard, so that to restore the princess to its former appearance, at the beginning it takes it apart for parts), and finishes it completely unconventionally – the second transformation of the protagonist and the princess’s refusal to marry the freak. The tale is destroyed by the inner callousness of Pirlipat, but becomes a reality thanks to the good heart of Marie Stalbaum. An ordinary girl is a princess not by birth, but in spirit: it is no coincidence that she is reflected in the waters of Pink Lake in the guise that she remembered from her godmother’s stories as belonging to a fairy princess.

The fine line between the real and the fantasy world is based on the darkness, silence and / or absence of adult characters: toys in the living room come to life at midnight; The mouse king and the Nutcracker come to Marie’s room when everyone is sleeping; the battle between toys and mice ends with the girl’s fallen shoe; Marie’s return from the Puppet Kingdom takes place in the morning after waking up; The Nutcracker becomes Drosselmeyer’s nephew when Marie says that she would never have abandoned him because of her unattractive appearance, and falls off the chair with a sharp roar.

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