Der Untertan, written in 1914, first officially published in 1918, is the most famous novel by German author Heinrich Mann. It has been translated into English under the titles "Man of Straw," "The Patrioteer," and "The Loyal Subject" (translation by Helmut Peitsch). The title poses a problem for the non-German reader since there is no effective translation of the word 'Untertan' in the sense it was employed by Mann. The 'Subject' of the title conveys a sense of unthinking servility to the state. The novel is well known particularly in Germany and is compulsory reading in many German schools.
"Der Untertan" portrays the life of Diederich Hessling, a slavish and fanatical admirer of Kaiser Wilhelm II, as an archetype of nationalist Wilhelmine Germany. In 1951, the novel was made into a movie in East Germany, directed by Wolfgang Staudte and starring Werner Peters as Diederich Hessling.
The spanking scene
The beginning of the book describes the protagonist's childhood: "Diederich Hessling was a dreamy, delicate child, frightened of everything, and troubled with constant earache." The novel continues to relate how Diederich both feared and loved his father, head of a paper factory, who would harshly cane the boy in his office whenever he had commited a misdeed such as telling a lie. Already as a boy, Diederich Hessling seemed to take a sort of masochistic (not in a sexual sense) satisfaction in the act of submission to authority, and find reassurance in the demonstration of paternal power which restored justice and order.
A caning scene as described in the novel is also featured in the movie (M/m).
- The Patrioteer. Full 1921 English translation at Google Books
- Man of Straw. Penguin Books, London, 1984, c1918. (ISBN 0-14-006584-9)
- Der Untertan on IMDb
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