Black or White:
The representation of Toni and Mina in Die Verlobung in St. Domingo and Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte
This essay will discuss similarities as well as crucial differences between the female characters Mina and Toni. Even though Mina´s part in Chamissio´s narrative is relatively small, it will be argued that she represents a specific representation of female charachters in romantic texts. Toni, on the hand, not only takes a central role in Kleist´s narrative, but is also defined in a very contradicting way to Mina. Nonetheless, both characters still share a lot of features. Possible explanations for this diversity will be given by a close reading of both texts, a focus on historical circumstances and by taking into account the mere characteristics of romanticism and ancient archetypes. Furthermore, slight interpretations of other main characters of both narratives need to be given to present a wider understanding of Mina and Toni, as well as comparisons to other female characters of the romantic era.
“Mina saß da, bleich und schön wie der erste Schnee […]“ (Kleist, 2002, p.45).
Kleist orchestrates the first encounter of Mina and Gustav like the sudden incarnation of a new god and his goddess. In Peter´s view all women disappear next to Mina “wie die Sterne der Nacht vor der Sonne“, because of her Elysian appearance (Kleist, 2002, p.35). Kleist puts an emphasis on the uniqueness of Mina towards Peter by italicising “einen” ((Kleist, 2002, p.35&39). To furthermore support the ideal ancient image of Mina, Kleist also points out that Peter gives away the crone that was meant to be for the more modern money orientated Fanny (Kleist, 2002, p.36). Peter himself, regardless to his shadeless appearance, is depicted “mitten in der Sonne” (Kleist, 2002, p.35). Here a relation can be drawn to Hyperion, the Grecian God of sun and light.
In the following Mina is presented by Gustav as a selfless, devote, and innocent child full of imagination, whose love is defined by her self-abandonment towards Peter (Kleist, 2002, p.40). She describes herself as a weak and foolish girl, who only learned to love through Peter (Kleist, 2002, p.41). She is completely passive and therefore depending on Peter, her parents and society. Similar depictions of other female characters can be found in other romantic texts such as Northanger Abbey or Faust: Catherine and Gretchen both are full of imagination and stand in passive innocence towards their external world.
“[...] so hätte ich, auch wenn alles Übrige an dir schwarz gewesen wäre, aus einem vergifteten Becher mit dir trinken wollen“ (Chamissio, 2002, p.12).
At first sight, a lot of similarities can be drawn between Toni and Mina: Toni, also still a child of 15 years, lets herself easily seduce by Gustav and also defines her love towards him by total self-abandonment: “[…] sie frohlockte bei dem Gedanken, in dieser zu seiner [Gustav] Rettung angeordneten Unternehmung zu sterben” (Chamissio, 2002, p.34). She furthermore imagines going with Gustav to Europe to be his devoted wife (Chamissio, 2002, p.29). As Mina, who ends up being as a “gottesfürchtige Witwe” (Kleist, 2002, p.76), Toni is highly religious, shown by her prayer and the picture of the Virgin Mary (Chamissio, 2002, p.29).
To Gustav Toni is the reincarnation of his former wife Mariane. In his yearning for the past he wants to make Toni his new wife, his new Mariane, represented by the transfer of the golden cross, which was once a present from Mariane, to Toni (Chamissio, 2002, p.20). Shortly after this celebration, the active Gustav is literally carrying the passive Toni: “[…] eine Leblose […]” (Chamissio, 2002, p.21). Similar to Kleist, Chamissio creates an ancient aura around his two protagonists. Not only does Gustav sanctify Toni by providing her with the golden cross and is she related to the Virgin Mary, but also does Chamissio connect Toni and Gustav to sun and light. Toni twice uses the exclamation “Beim [bei dem] Licht der Sonne“ (Chamissio, 2002, p.6&22). On the one hand, this establishes a connection between Toni and something godly, and on the other hand it also sets up a connection between Gustav as someone divine and Toni, since Gustav finally becomes Toni´s “sun”. Therefore, a relation to Hyperion might be drawn here again. Furthermore, the scene of Gustav carrying Toni into her chamber takes place during the uprising of the sun (Chamissio, 2002, p.21).
However, major and important differences between the two girls can be found. Both characters undergo different ways of progression. Mina, due to the fact that her husband Rascal is executed, unites with Peter´s old friend Bendel to practice “Werke der Barmherzigkeit” in his Schlemihlium (Kleist, 2002, p.76). According to the fact that she is highly religious, it can be assumed that she would not allow herself to marry again. Her being is therefore still defined by external factors and she still devotes her life to the life of others. This way, her former idealisation is maintained by Chamissio.
Toni, on the other hand, undergoes a different and much more complicated development. Her path can be divided into three main parts. She starts as a dependent of Hoango and her mother within a society that has overthrown the former establishment. A relation to the French Revolution can easily be found here. Nonetheless, her “ins Gelbliche gehende Gesichtsfarbe” (which of course also clearly distinguishes her from the pale Mina) as well as the title “Die