Heinrich Mann’s “The Loyal Subject” has been translated into a number of titles since it was released in 1918. Originally released as Der Untertan, which directly translates to “The Subject”, has also been translated into The Man of Straw, and The Patrioteer. It follows the life of a subject, Diederich Hessling, in Wilhelmine Germany. Diederich, Mann’s anti-hero in this novel, is the perfect depiction of Wilhelmine Germany to jingoism, chauvinism, anti-semitism, ultra-nationalism, and proto-fascism. For instance, Diederich is a fanatical supporter of Kaiser Wilhelm II, despite the realities of the failures by the state in its responsibilities to its citizens. Nonetheless, Diederich is used by Mann to show the beliefs and realities surrounding masculinity in Germany, and Europe at the time.
The development of Diederich’s character is a depiction of education, socialization, as well as, the rise of an individual who exemplifies a collection of anti-democratic, fascistic, ultra-nationalist, and chauvinistic traits to power. Apart from the fact that such a character clearly depicted the typical German mind-set especially after the First World War, of the adoption of anti-democratic, and fascistic tendencies in the rise to power, Mann’s Diederich is also a representation of the author’s views on the contemporaneous beliefs, attitudes, and events. Diederich is incapable of living up to the ideals of manliness; and that acts as a source of shame, anxiety, and even fear as he goes through his life in Wilhelmine Germany.
Young Diederich Hessling is his father’s best student, as far as learning about respect and identity building with respect to power and strength is concerned. Everything he knows about power and strength around masculinity has been learned from his father. As a young boy growing up and witnessing the relationship between his parents; especially how his father treated his mother, he learned to despise the emotion and tenderness that his mother represented. Consequently, when he grew up and married a wife of his own, he did not have respect or acknowledgement of the importance of the sensitivity that his wife represented. His father’s “lessons” have grown in him so much that he cannot take time to respect himself. The author writes that he often exploited her moods but had no respect whatsoever for the woman that gave birth to him. According to Diederich, the affinity that she had for him made the development of such feelings, or emotions difficult in him mainly because he had no respect for who he was.
Diederich is a person with very inflexible ideals. He is a person who talks of bravery yet is the greatest coward in the land. He talks of action by the military, yet is the first to seek to be exempted from the obligatory military service. He shows weakness and hollowness at every instance, and he knows that he is no match for the people he idolises. He cannot in any way show the strength in those people; and this becomes a source of shame on his character throughout the novel. As such, the realization that he is not capable of fully embodying his gender leads him to project the rage within him externally on people that he believes to have the feelings he does not like in himself. Examples of such people are his mother, and then as he got into public spheres like the university, the gymnasium, the military, the duelling fraternity, the political and economic arena in his native Netzig, he tries to transform his identity. He builds his character and identity around people who have power.
Diederich is both a slave and a master. He appears to be dependent on the people above him, as well as, the people below him. However, he gets satisfaction that he is above other people. He associates with liberals, intellectuals, his employees, racial minorities, and women, all in different ways. For instance, his relationship to women is very complex, and acts to undermine his sense of masculinity. This is seen when he meets and falls in love with Agnes Goppel while in school in Berlin. He talks of his affection for his mother, and how much he owes everything he has become to her proper upbringing of himself and her sisters; yet this was not anywhere near the truth. He told Agnes about “the twilight hours, the fairy tales beneath the Christmas trees of his childhood, and even about their prayers ‘from the heart’.” (Mann 62). This reveals the depth of self-loathing and shame that reflected in his sensitivity. This acts as proof of his inability to be an ideal man. Agnes, as the author reveals, has noticed the change in Hessling. However, she is not fooled as she denotes that people have to act different at times, and that she is not afraid of Diederich on that day (Mann 62). As the narrative continues, Diederich agrees that he had fear for her. This, as he reveals was because she was too good and too beautiful for her. Additionally, his fear was because she was responsible for bringing forth emotions which exposed his shortcomings. This is what the author aims to bring out, of the German society. Men use their power and positions of authority to cover up the shortcomings within the society. They disrespect, and do not appreciate their women at that time; which is a sign of weakness and shame.
Diederich casts the incidence with Agnes in hostility and conflict saying that men are opposed by women at every possible opportunity. He says that women are cunning and lack restraint (Mann 64). The language associated with his character shows the gender binaries which have been developed in his life from childhood. As such, he is a failure, as far as masculinity is concerned, but blames it on women, and his opponents.