How does artistic ambition come to terms with political power
Klaus Mann’s Mephisto revolves around an ambitious man named Hendrik Hofgen, who rises from relative insignificance from acting and working in a local theatre group in Hamburg to fame and national prominence as the head of the national theater in Berlin. It is a classic novel that was about what happened in Germany from 1923 to 1936. Germany was depressed and dejected after the defeat of the First World War and was now depending on the arrival of a savior that would lead them to the Promised Land which was believed to materialize with the coming of the Adolf Hitler led Nazis (Mann).
In this novel, the artistic ambition of a man is connected with the political circle in Germany. The book is centered on the ambition of one man in the person of Hendrik Höfgen, a famous German actor who rose to prominence through his wonderful displays in the theaters. Hendrik Höfgen is the fictional example of the eminent German actor Gustaf Gründgens, the author’s brother-in-law as he was married to Klaus mann’s sister Erika Mann who was called Barbara Bruckner and Klaus mann was called Sebastian in the novel (Mann).
Hendrik had a passion for acting and he had a knack for success in his chosen profession. This situation leads him into forming an alliance with the Nazis in order to boost his career. His ambition for excellence in acting would not materialize if he does not form political allies with the Nazis. He then refuses to leave Germany in spite of the atrocities committed by the Adolf Hitler led Nazis. He is of the notion that his dreams would not be achieved outside Germany and then chooses to stay back in Germany, where he feels his visions would be actualized.
In Mephisto, Hendrik’s dance to the political tunes of the Nazis and his assistance in using the acting platform to create a good image of the Nazis is a typical example of how one could use the theater in supporting and bolstering a political view.
The artistic ambition of an artist (Hendrik Höfgen) and the political powers that be are intertwined, as he uses his role as an artist to boost the images of the totalitarian Nazi regime. Hendrik has an uphill task to face as he had to have artistic independence under the support of a tyrannical regime.
Right from time, there had always been bad relationships between artists and politicians. The artists usually portray the ills in the society and the evils perpetrated by the politicians in their piece of artwork, in the theaters or in the stages. These have made the politicians to be at the throats of the artists as they feel they are threats to the establishment of their authority. On the other hand, Politicians try to manipulate their fellow citizens and they need the artist to help establish their love among the populace. This is where the talents and charismatic display of Hendrik Höfgen comes to play in Mephisto as he is needed by the Nazis to help reach out to the people through his acting in this breathtaking novel. The two parties (Hendrik and the Nazis) benefit mutually from their relationships.
Mephisto is the legendary story of the rise of a Faustian character who sold his soul in exchange for prominence. Hendrik Höfgen had earlier showed a lack of interest in the socialists’ ideologies, prior to the Nazis ascension into power.
Due to the Nazis political takeover in the German political terrain, he then sees it as a golden opportunity to fulfill his political ambition and thus performed propaganda plays for the Nazis. He uses these plays to win the interest of the Nazis and hence used the Nazis as a tool to establish his name in different parts of the country. A decision he later regrets as his prominence died with the sinking of the Nazis.
Mephisto is the story of a man who trades his conscience with the Nazis in exchange for prominence in the new totalitarian regime in Germany as he sought to make headway in his artistic ambition. His artistic ambition depended on the help of the political powers that existed at that time, which explains his collaboration with the Nazis. His artistic ambition makes him to submit to the authority of the Nazi party so as to move to the German capital ‘Berlin’ and move to the top of the theatrical world.
Consequently, Hendrik Höfgen makes huge successes in his career and continues to rely on the influence of the power of the Nazis to further attain the maximum height possible in his career. He then makes huge success and gains power in the political stage as a result of the connection he had with the Prime minister and the Nazis General at that time.
It started initially as an artist’s indifferent view on politics (as he was only preoccupied with making giant strides in his career) and changed into a deep involvement in the political terrain. His political allegiance changed as the Nazis comes to power in Germany; he merged his artistic ambition with support for the Nazis as he used it become more popular.
He abandons the principles of his Communist party and leaves his wife to entangle himself with the Nazis in order to gain political prominence and move his acting career from acting in a regional theater to hitting the Broadway scenes.
Hofgren’s wife ‘Barbara’, her father and other artists escape to France following the advent of the Nazis into Germany. But an actress called ‘Lotte’, who was an ally of the Nazi party, persuades Hendrik to remain in Germany and try to develop his career there, an advice that Hendrik heeded to (Mann).
Consequently, his romance with the Nazis yielded fruits as he is patronized by a Nazi General. It could be seen as was read in the book that the political powers were helpful in fulfilling the ambitions of an artist.
While the people in the political mainstream needed an artist in the mould of Hendrik Hofgen to fulfill their political dreams, he equally needed them to fulfill his artistic ambition. Hendrik was useful in establishing their authority and power over the people; he was influential to establishing their popularity amongst the people. He was then rewarded as he now became the head of the National Theater in Berlin.
The dreams and ambition of an artist is the only cogent reason an artist would rely on political powers to develop his career, considering the fact that both parties usually have divergent views. This could be seen as Hendrik acted against his conscience as he switched allegiance to the Nazi political party in order to fulfill his dreams and actualize his visions in the acting profession.
Mann, Klaus. Mephisto. Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1936.