Molly Miron

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Margaret Duggan


In his Prelude to Volume of Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann speculated about the nature of time. In several senses for Mann the time factor itself became a character and a motivating force in the novel, absorbing the author and the reader as well as the actual protagonists. In this introductory essay before he began the chronicle of the family of Jacob, Mann considered the illusory characteristics of variable time as opposed to what the reader perceives as time's reality, measurable in units of centuries, generations, and seasons. Mann set at odds the reader's mundane acceptance of time's regular predictable progress with its variable significance in an earlier era. Specifically he contrasted the generalized, imprecise time sense of the people of Joseph's period with their awareness of vaguely overlapping generations from Abraham through Jacob with the exactly calculated, highly individualized time reckoning of twentieth century western cultures such as our own. Mann insisted that while human beings experienced the same emotions in the distant past as we do now, their attitudes and world outlook contrast with ours and we do not know how to see with their eyes. To understand Joseph at all we must give up some of our twentieth century prejudices in favor of our own singularity and peculiarity. According to Roger Tomes, "Going down into the past is therefore something like death … You do not know how you will view your own life, or what kind of person you will have become when you return". That is, the study of history affects a person's future behavior according to his or her knowledge of precedent. The people of Joseph's time, so immersed in their history that they did not bother to clarify the divisions between generations, cop led the actions of characters from the past and identified with them to an extent unknown to modern people. And Mann himself, because of his twenty-year study of Joseph, also adopted some of that character's attitudes and behavior as well as his deeds. The perception of history and of the time in which events occur varies according to the biases of the observers and in Joseph and His Brothers the reader intrudes into the ancient time of these characters rather than bringing them forward to the present for examination. Mann also used a complicated and rambling style in the Prelude to reproduce something like Jacob and Joseph's theological musings in an illustration of the old-fashioned, open-ended attitude toward time which the reader can readily grasp. With this somewhat playful juxtaposition of our modern understanding of time and the antique, diffuse time sense of the people of Joseph's time, Mann emphasized the differences between western twentieth century manner of thought and oriental second millenium perceptive style.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Mann, Thomas, 1875-1955 -- Criticism and interpretation
Mann, Thomas, 1875-1955. Joseph und seine Brüder.
Joseph (Son of Jacob) -- Fiction.



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University