HEROISM IN KLEIST’S “DAS ERDBEBEN IN CHILI”. Robin A. Clouser einrich von Kleist’s Novelle “Das Erdbeben in. H Chili” () is regarded by many. Apr 20, Almost certainly written in , Heinrich von Kleist’s novella, Das Erdbeben in Chili [The Earthquake in Chili] was first published in September. I. Editions of Kleist’s works have nothing to say about the source of his. Das Erdbeben in Chili, , other than noting that nothing is known on the subject1.

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It begins with a natural catastrophe, an earthquake, and ends with a man-made one: The tale has little local specificity; it is set in Chile, but what Kleist offers us is a model of European society, one which functions as test case in the exploration of how human beings negotiate the need to find meaning after a major disaster.

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Jeronimo Rugera, a tutor in a noble household, has an affair with Josephe, the daughter of the family. She is sent to a nunnery where she gives birth to a little boy, Philipp. The town is scandalized. Both Jeronimo and Josephe are to be put to death. At the very moment when the procession is taking her to the place of execution and Jeronimo, in prison, is about to hang himself in despair, the earthquake strikes.

In kelist chaos and confusion that follows, the two lovers and their child are saved. Together with many iin the survivors, they go vhili a valley outside the town where an almost paradisal scene unfolds. The following day a service is held in the cathedral. Jeronimo and Josephe and their child go, together with Don Fernando, a courageous and principled man who has a small child whom Josephe is caring for.


In the cathedral a sermon is preached which interprets the earthquake as a judgment sent by God to punish the town for its immorality. The im turn on the two lovers and kill them and the child that they assume to be theirs. But they make a mistake. The central issue the story explores is the processes of interpretation by which the survivors of the earthquake desperately need to give meaning to the cataclysm that has befallen them and to their survival — and chuli practical consequences of those interpretations.

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Time and again the narrator obliges us to register kleisf fact that societies, cultures, institutions, individual people tend to project their values and assumptions on to the divinity. And the lovers, reunited with their child, almost see themselves as a reincarnation of the Holy Family: The God-centred interpretation reaches its climax in the scene in the cathedral. The preacher insists that the earthquake happened at a sign from God and as a sign from God.

Nobody thinks to question the how the lovers, who are claimed to be the chief target of divine anger, have escaped disaster. The need is so intense that the crowd are prepared to kill for it. Hence the bitter irony that one disaster follows hard upon the other.

The paradisal interlude between these two events is likened to the Garden of Eden, and brings the survivors together into one family.

The need to return to society, to one of its central institutions that provides meaning, is simply too great. Das Erdbeben in Chili ; The Earthquake in Chilethen, demands to be read as a kind of parable that warns against the God-centred interpretation of the world.


Yet it is important to recognize that any such reading of the story runs the risk of turning it into a cautionary tale. But it does not feel like that. Two factors make it a much more exacting reading experience.

One is the sheer pace of events that sweeps it — and us — along. Moreover, it is crucial to note that the narrative voice both quotes, and on occasion seems to share in, the God-centred interpretation. Rather, dhili implicates us in the cast of mind that it ultimately criticizes as being, in its supernatural claims, inhuman.

Literary Encyclopedia | Das Erdbeben in Chili

The earthquake does not mean anything; it is simply a random event. All of which is little comfort; but it does not mean that life is meaningless or purposeless. At the end of the story there are survivors: Don Fernando is a good and noble man.

And there is the child that needs his help. But there is some hope, some glimmer of joy; and it is wonderfully expressed in the subjunctive cgili of the tentative final clause: It is one of the greatest endings in the whole of German prose literature.

University of Nebraska Press,pp.