"A Man by the Name of Ziegler", by Hermann Hesse
A Man by the Name of Ziegler
"There was once a young man by the name of Ziegler who lived on Brauer Street. He was one of those young men whom we meet every day time and again, but we never really notice his face because it resembles everyone else’s, like a collective face. Ziegler did everything that such people always do and was just like them. He was not untalented, but also not talented. He loved money and entertainment, liked to wear nice clothes, and was just as cowardly as most people.
His life and actions were determined less by impulses and aspirations than by prohibitions and the fear of punishment. At the same time he had many honorable qualities and was in general, all things considered, a delightfully normal man who thought of himself as very nice and important. Indeed, he regarded himself, just as every person tends to do, as a unique individual, while he was really typical. He believed that his life and destiny were at the center of the world’s attention, just as everyone does. He had very few doubts, and when the facts contradicted his views on life, he shut his eyes in disapproval.
As a modern man, Ziegler had an infinite respect not only for money but also for that other powerful force — science. Yet he would not have been able to say what science actually was. When he thought of science, he meant something like statistics and a little bacteriology. He knew very well how much money and honor the government gave to science. In particular he respected cancer research, for his father had died from cancer, and Ziegler assumed that this science, which had made great progress in the meantime, would not allow the same thing to happen to him.
In his appearance, Ziegler tried to distinguish himself by dressing somewhat beyond his means, and he always kept up with the particular fashion of the year. On the other hand, he looked down upon the trends of the month or season, for it would have taxed his pocket too much to keep up with them, and thus he regarded them as foolish affectations. He had great esteem for integrity and did not shy from cursing his supervisors or governments — but only among friends and in places where he felt secure.
Actually, I am probably spending too much time on this description. Ziegler was truly a charming young man, and his loss is our loss. Indeed, his end came early and in a strange way that undermined all his plans and justifiable hopes for the future.
At one point, soon after he had arrived in our city, he decided that he would enjoy himself by spending an entire Sunday on an outing of some kind. He had not yet found the right companions to accompany him; nor had he joined a club, because he had difficulty making up his mind which one suited him. Perhaps this was his misfortune. It is not good for a man to be alone. So he had no choice but to go sightseeing by himself and diligently inquired what was worth seeing in the city.
After careful deliberation he decided to visit the museum of history and the zoo.
The museum was free on Sunday mornings, and the zoo had a reduced price of admission in the afternoons. Dressed in his new street clothes with a scarf that he loved very much, Ziegler went to the museum of history on Sunday morning. He brought with him his thin, elegant walking stick — a square, red-polished stick that made him look distinguished and important. To his dismay, however, the guard prevented him from taking the stick into the rooms of the museum, and he was obliged to leave it in the wardrobe.
There was a great deal to see in the large high-ceilinged rooms, and the pious visitor solemnly praised the omnipotent force of scholarly research, whose merits were on display here too, as Ziegler realized from the information printed on the exhibition cases. Indeed, these descriptions transformed old junk like rusty keys, broken copper necklaces, and similar things into astonishingly interesting items. It was wonderful to see how science took care of all this, how it controlled everything, how it knew how to control everything — oh yes, it would certainly find a remedy for cancer soon and perhaps eliminate dying altogether.
In the second room he found a glass case whose windows cast such a strong reflection that he could check his suit, haircut, collar, pleats, and tie with care and satisfaction for one whole minute. Now he could take a deep breath of relief and proceed to pay homage to some products of the old woodcutters. They were highly productive guys, he thought benevolently, even though they were very naive. He looked at an old standing clock with ivory feet that had figures dancing a minuet at the stroke of the hour and gave it his approval.
Soon, however, the entire affair began to bore him somewhat. He yawned and frequently took out his pocket watch, which he certainly could afford to show. It was made of heavy gold and was an heirloom from his father. There was still a great deal of time before lunch, he noticed with regret, and so he went into another room that managed to arouse and recapture his curiosity. It contained objects of medieval superstition, books about magic, amulets, and the costumes of witches.
In one corner there was an entire alchemical workshop with vinegar, mortar, test tubes, dried pig bladders, a pair of bellows, and many other items. This corner was partitioned off by a woolen rope. A sign indicated that the objects were not to be touched. People never read such signs very carefully, however, and Ziegler was all by himself in the room. So without thinking, he stuck his arm over the rope and touched some of the strange things.
He had heard and read a good deal about the Middle Ages and the odd superstitions held during that time. He could not understand how the people of that era could have been concerned with such childish stuff and why witches and all those other crazy things had not simply been banned. On the other hand, alchemy could certainly be excused, because it had given rise to chemistry, which became so useful. My God, if one thought about it, the goldmaker’s crucible and all the ridiculous magical junk had perhaps been necessary.
Otherwise, we would have neither aspirin nor gas bombs today !
Without thinking about what he was doing, Ziegler took a tiny globule, something like a pill, in his hand. It was dried-out and weightless. He turned it between his fingers, and as he was about to put it down, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around. Another visitor had entered the room. Ziegler was ashamed that he was holding the tiny globule in his hand, for he had definitely read the warning sign that prohibited such things. So he closed his hand, stuck it into his pocket, and left the room.
Only when he reached the street did he remember that he still had the pill. He pulled it out and thought about throwing it away. But before he did, he held it up to his nose and smelled it. Since it had a faint smell like tar that delighted him, he put the tiny globule back into his pocket.
Soon afterward he went into a restaurant, ordered something to eat, thumbed through some newspapers, adjusted his tie, and glanced at the other guests, sometimes with respect, sometimes with condescension, depending on how they were dressed. Since the meal was taking a while, Ziegler took out the alchemist’s pill that he had inadvertently stolen and smelled it. Then he scratched it with the nail of his index finger. Finally he yielded to a childish desire and stuck it into his mouth. Within seconds it began dissolving, and since the taste was not unpleasant, he swallowed it down with a sip of beer. Right after this the waiter brought his meal.
At two o’clock the young man jumped off the trolley, went to the entrance of the zoo, and paid for a Sunday ticket. He went into the monkey house with a friendly smile on his face and stopped in front of the large chimpanzee cage. The big ape blinked, nodded at him in good humor, and spoke the following words in a deep voice :
“How’s it going, my dear brother ?”
Repelled and horrified, the visitor turned quickly away and heard the ape cursing at him as he departed.
“The guy’s still proud ! Flatfoot ! Idiot !”
Ziegler hurried over to the long-tailed monkeys, who were dancing uninhibitedly and screaming,
“Give us some sugar, comrade !”
But when he did not have any sugar, they became angry, mimicked him, called him a poor devil, and bared their teeth at him. Ziegler could not stand it. Stunned and confused, he fled the monkey house and headed for the moose and deer, whose behavior he expected would be much nicer.
A large splendid elk standing near the fence looked at the visitor. Now Ziegler felt deeply horrified, for ever since he swallowed the magic pill, he had understood the language of animals. So it was with the elk, who spoke with his eyes — two large brown eyes. His silent glance expressed majesty and mourning, and he showed the visitor how terribly he despised him and how superior he was to him. Indeed, Ziegler read in the silent majestic glance of the elk that he himself was nothing but dirt, a ridiculous and disgusting beast even with his hat, stick, pocket watch, and Sunday suit.
Ziegler fled the elk and went to the mountain goats. From there to the chamois, to the llama, to the gnu, to the wild boars, and to the bears. None of these animals insulted him, but they did show their disdain. He listened to them and learned from their conversations what they thought about human beings. It was terrible what they thought. They were particularly amazed that, of all things, these ugly, stinking, worthless, two-legged creatures were allowed to run around freely in their preposterous disguises.
He heard a puma hold a conversation with its cub that was full of dignity and objective wisdom seldom heard among human beings. He heard a handsome panther comment on the pack of Sunday visitors, and he was short and to the point, using speech in an aristocratic manner. He looked the blond lion straight in the eye and learned how large and wonderful the wild world was where there are no cages or human beings. He saw a falcon sitting on a dead branch, sad and proud, in torpid melancholy, and he saw the bluejays bear their captivity with dignity, a shrug of the shoulders, and humor.
In desperation, stunned and torn from all his usual ways of thinking, Ziegler turned once again to human beings. He looked for a glance that would show understanding of his predicament and anxiety. He listened in on conversations and tried to catch some consoling words, something comprehensible, something that would do him good. He observed the behavior of the numerous visitors at the zoo, trying to locate signs of their dignity, character, nobility, and superiority. But he was disappointed. He heard their voices and words, saw their movements, gestures, and looks, and since he now saw everything through the eyes of an animal, he found nothing but a pretentious, lying, ugly society of creatures who seemed to be a preposterous mixture of different types of beasts.
Ziegler wandered frantically about, feeling completely ashamed of himself. He had long since thrown his square stick into the bushes, followed by his gloves. But when he now tossed his hat from his head, took off his boots, ripped off his tie, and pressed himself sobbing against the fence of the elk stable, he caused a great sensation, was taken into custody, and eventually brought to an insane asylum."