Mephisto: The Real Villian “Characterized by integrity: guided by a high sense of honor and duty,” the aforementioned quote is the definition of honorable, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. This definition alludes to the idea that like integrity, honorability must also be earned. In the novel Mephisto, written by Klaus Mann, the main character, Hendrik Hofgen struggles with his desire to stay true to his moral values and hold on to his integrity, while also trying to fulfill his dreams.
At first glance, Hofgen seems to be the villain, and seems to be the furthest thing from honorable, but the continued exposure to his character provides the reader with the opportunity for further examination. Throughout much of the novel, the reader witnesses Hofgen’s struggle to accomplish his goals; the most obstinate being his quest to attain fame. The way Mann narrates in third person allows readers to see inside the minds of all the characters, with special focus on Hofgen’s thoughts.
Hendrick’s narcissism is painfully obvious from the beginning, but the pursuit of fame, seems to amplify some of his other unattractive qualities, giving him the appearance of a sociopath, and causing readers to constantly question his sanity. Hendrik’s frequently odd behavior fluctuates in different stages of his journey. In the beginning, Hofgen seems to have no remorse or empathy for others, exhibits extreme mood swings, is unable to control or express his emotions properly, he is promiscuous, promotes unhealthy relationships, and seems to have no regard for right and wrong.
He constantly manipulates others and spends a good portion of his time carefully calculating his next move or contemplating the effect of a situation on his image. Changes in his personality can be observed most noticeably when he is meeting influential people, using people to gain stature, or when he is placed in an unfamiliar situation. Examples of this are when he meets Nicoletta, Barbra, Marder, members of the Nazi Party, and several others. His chameleon-like personality allows him to become charming, intriguing, and seemingly lovable, always making a good impression.
He continuously uses his looks and charming persona to make people fall in love with him and help himself rise to fame. The first impression given off by Hofgen makes it extremely difficult to relate to him as the main character, but Hofgen’s thoughts are also made visible to the reader throughout the novel, allowing Hofgen to justify his actions and show his thought processes. For example, after Hofgen establishes a more permanent position in the Berlin theatre, he attempts to use his new Nazi associates to help others.
Later on, Angelika’s husband approaches Hofgen and asks him why he doesn’t use his influence to inform the prime minister of what is going on in the concentration camps. Hofgen responds by saying, “Am I going to hold off Niagra Falls with an umbrella? No. So there it is! ” This quote shows that even though he doesn’t approve of what the Nazis are doing, he knows that he can be the most help to himself and to others by maintaining his position in their circle. Hofgen requires some amount of admiration, because he is extremely resourceful and very smart when it comes to getting what he wants.
He manipulated many people and somehow was still admired and recognized for the great things he did. Even though he didn’t approve of the Nazi beliefs, he kept his opinions to himself and gained influence, enabling him to help some of his old friends. He kept the outside world at a distance and focused solely on thing at a time. Another reason Hofgen should be praised is because he fell a victim to greed and lost sight of his morals in the process, but even through all that, he turned the situation around.
Hofgen may not have been a true hero, but he was most certainly not a villain. The real villain in this novel, to me, is not Hendrik Hofgen. In fact, it is not a person at all. The real villain seems to be society and the ever-increasing standards being placed on people. Hofgen’s talent and love for the theatre became contaminated by the popular belief that status and success make up who you are. Hofgen gave up a lot to get where he ended up. He had to give up many friendships and was never able to experience love to its full potential.
He wasn’t able to be with Juliette, but was able to save her life as a result. He had to relinquish the right to freely and openly share his thoughts but in the end that may have saved his life. Some examples of people voicing their negative opinions of the Nazis and being silenced were Otto Ulrichs and Hans Miklas. Hofgen’s old friend Otto Ulrichs openly opposed the Nazi movement and as a result was put in a concentration camp. Hofgen, as a result of his new connections, was able to get him out, give him another hance at life, but differences in their political views put a strain on the friendship. (240). Hans Miklas was always a supporter of the Nazis and an oppose of Hendrik Hofgen. After his years of support for the Nazis were not rewarded as he thought they should have been, he made his loss of faith in the party known. Hofgen tried to change his mind, but he was killed as a result of his opposition. (199). In conclusion, I feel that Hofgen commits too many unfavorable acts to be considered honorable.
He does occasionally acknowledge how his actions affect others and even exhibits some signs of a conscience, such as guilt, remorse, and possibly even some regret. These instances of reflection allow him to become a much more relatable character and not so much the villain. Hofgen was unable to truly stick to all of his moral values throughout the entire novel and had to do some things to get ahead that he knew were wrong. Therefore, I cannot see him as a truly honorable person. In the end, it clearly paid off.
The sacrifice of his values at times allowed him to become an influential part of society and allowed him to obtain the success he so desired. Hendrik Hofgen had to choose between many things and the life he thought he wanted. He conformed to society but had to lose a little bit of himself.
Works Cited “honor. ” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 7 October 2010 http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/honor Mann, Klaus. Mephisto. NY: Random House Inc. , 1977. Print.