Base matter: Pathetic fallacy in gustav freytag’s soll und haben

Erica Weitzman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article analyzes the implications of Gustav Freytag’s use of pathetic fallacy—the attribution of human emotions and characteristics to inanimate objects—in his bestselling 1855 novel Soll und Haben. Insofar as literary realism implicitly depends on an idea of the material world as something separate from, and subordinate to, human consciousness, Freytag’s sporadic use of pathetic fallacy and other forms of anthropomorphism in his novel would seem at first to be merely an unconscious poetic anachronism. As this article demonstrates, however, such tropes are in fact deployed by Freytag in a highly deliberate manner to affectively code and thus ban from the realist novel that which threatens its ontological premises. In particular, the proto-expressionistic use of pathetic fallacy in the appearances of Soll und Haben’s major villain, the Jewish moneylender Veitel Itzig, serves to establish the sinisterness of a material world independent of human control, allowing Freytag to solidify the novel’s conservative worldview together with an aggressively anthropocentric poetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-242
Number of pages26
JournalColloquia Germanica
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Anthropocen-trism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Evil
  • Pathetic fallacy
  • Realism
  • Thing studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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