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Written by Timothy Sexton
Fathers and Sons
To be sure, female characters do populate the novel. To be even more certain: they are for the most part pawns to be manipulated by the Buddenbrook men. This is a story of generational decline in which each successive son manages to take the family business a little further downward than his father. From the last truly successful Buddenbrook patriarch, Johan, to the sickly teenager Hanno who ends the bloodline forever with his premature death from typhus, the story of the Buddenbrook family is intensely focused on the relationships between fathers and sons. The underlying message is that dependence on such insularity is a contributing factor to the family’s decline in fortunes.
A decayed tooth that eventually result in the sudden death of a major character at a relatively young age becomes the central metaphor of the collapse of the Buddenbrooks. The family fortunes do not collapse as the result of any great economic turnaround or tragically unwise business decision. Rather, the spiral downward is the result of the cumulative effects of minor obstacles and obstructions that by themselves would have little impact. Ennui, non-business distractions, low-level narcissism, neurotic hypochondria, inattention to dental health and the weak immunity all play their small roles in the production of the decline and fall of a once-powerful family enterprise.
Sacrificing for the Sake of Family
When it comes to the daughters of these fathers, they are every bit as expected to do their part to keep the family business intact. Since the 1800’s was no place for women in business, they are expected to contribute in other ways. This theme is centered in the character of Tony and the way her personal live is manipulated and orchestrated by the males to align with the desires of the family rather than her own personal desires. The sacrifice of personal desires also extends to the sons, of course. They are expected to go into the family business and each successful generation fees the burden of increasingly weight pressure to keep the business going under evolving conditions of economic complexity.
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