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Posted on October 11th, 2012, by

The life of an individual in isolation from the rest of the society is impossible, but, on the other hand, the life of an individual within the society inevitably exposes him or her to conflicts which constitute an integral part of social relations and life of an individual within the society. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the short story The Bound Man by Ilse Aichinger, where the main character, the bound man, turns out in a practically permanent conflict with the society. The main character seems to be a stranger in the society, which cannot understand him, his philosophy, his actions and motives of him being tied up.  Through the main character of the short story, the author reveals the conflict of an individual and society, which reveals the overwhelming power of the society that confronts the position of an individual, who is unwilling to refuse from his beliefs and his philosophy.

First of all, it should be said that the main character of the short story is definitely a stranger in the world. It seems as if his very life is unwelcomed: sunlight on his face woke him but made him shut his eyes again (Aichinger, 1). In fact, the main character lives in the world he does not really want to see and become a part of. His awakening is quite symbolic since an individual normally enjoys when he or she sees sun and the beginning of a new day is normally associated with new opportunities and the beginning of a new life in a larger sense.

At the same time, it is obvious that the main character seems to be concerned with his internal world rather than with his environment. He is unwilling to wake up and prefers to keep sleeping, instead of waking up. In such a way, the author attempts to show that the main character anticipates the upcoming conflict. On the other hand, his unwillingness to wake up indicates to the intention of the main character to meditate and escape from the surrounding reality. In fact, the main character uses the avoidance strategy in the conflict with his social environment. He attempts to escape from the world, where he expects nothing good will happen to him.

In such a way, the author shows that the conflict between an individual and society is practically inevitable and an individual should come prepared to such a conflict. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that other characters of the short story do not really have as serious conflicts with the society as the bound man does. At first glance, it seems to be paradoxical that, at the beginning of the short story the author prepares the audience to the ongoing conflict of the main character and the society as a characteristic of the relationship of any individual with his or her social environment, but eventually she reveals the fact that not all people come into conflict with the society. At any rate, such conflicts are not as evident as the conflict of the main character and society.

In such a way, the logical conclusion a reader can make on reading the short story that it is only few individuals who come in conflicts with the society. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of the society prefers to live in harmony with other people. In other words, individuals avoid conflicts, but they do not escape as the main character of the book does. Instead, they adapt strategies which help them avoid conflicts in relations with other people. Obviously, they are conformist who adapt to their environment and they are ready to follow anyone’s lead as long as it prevents them from conflict or as long as it helps them being a part of the community. This is probably why the spectators are so eager to watch the bound man killing a wolf and the audience is united in this bloodthirsty desire. In this respect, the attempt of the wife of the circus proprietor to defend the bound man, when the audience demands him to fight a wolf seems to be rather provoked by the influence of the bound man than a natural desire of the woman to rebel against the society and come into conflict with the spectators: She shouted back at them that they needn’t believe in the bound man if they didn’t want to, they had never deserved him painted clowns were good enough for them (Aichinger, 18). However, her actions is apparently unauthentic, he does not really want to come into conflict with the spectators, with the heard. In this regard, her unauthentic action is contrasted to authentic action of the bound man who puts his life at stake to prove that he has killed the wolf. As the matter of fact, she just behaves in the same way as the spectators do she shouts and just demonstrates her contempt in regard to the spectators, who actually have the same feeling in regard to the woman. In such a way, the reaction of the woman on the aggression of the audience is rather a defensive reaction than an open challenge of the character. She just wants to show her ability to oppose to the spectators, who resemble the herd of wild animals more than people.

In this respect, the conflict of the bound man and society is a different conflict, which reveals the fundamental principle of the cause between an individual and the herd/society. In fact, the main character is totally different from all other people and this is exactly what makes him excluded from the society. This is why he feels being a stranger in the society, but, it is obvious that he does not really want to be a part of the society. He feels comfortable on his own, being lonely and free of social boundaries imposed on them by other people, which tie him up as the rope. Nevertheless, he does not want to accept social norms and lead a routine lifestyle. In stark contrast, he prefers to be tied up because he feels comfortable. Obviously, the author attempts to show that the bound man’s desire to stay tied up is the manifestation of the free will of an individual, who intentionally comes into clashes with social norms and rules. The bound man wants to remain himself, even if he needs to be tied up, but he does not want to become a part of the herd. Instead, he preferred staying in the shade (Aichinger, 7).

This intention of the individual to liberate himself naturally leads to the conflict and constantly nourishes the conflict which steadily grows in power.

The theme of the absurd universe is revealed when antics amused the bound man, because he could have freed himself if he had wanted to whenever he liked (Aichinger, 10). In such a way, an individual is free in his actions but he remains restrained by his ropes. The absurd of the situation is revealed through the possibility of the bound man to free himself, but he is unwilling to tear the rope and to set himself free.

The author reveals the fact that the main character is willing to stay bound even though he suffers from such a life. It is absolutely inconvenient to live being tied up, but the bound man is too accustomed to his position to the extent that he feels uncomfortable when the rope is loosened. On the other hand, people are attracted by the bound man because of his position and this is probably why he remains bound and is willing to get untied. Hence, his position is absurd because he can release himself but he does not do it because he will lose the attention of the public and become an ordinary human, but, on the other hand, he will feel comfortable. In such a way, the non-conformist trend, which is typical for existentialism, is revealed in terms of the theme of the absurd universe in which live.

In addition, it is worth mentioning the fact that the rope plays a very important symbolic role since, on the one hand, it is a symbol of the link between the individual, the bound man, and the society, while, on the other hand, it is a symbol of limitations and constraints imposed on the individual by the society. The individual is restrained by social norms, biases and stereotypes which the rope symbolizes and the individual cannot fully liberate him- or herself of these constrains. Moreover, even the individual, who consciously challenges social norms and biases, such as the bound man, is unwilling to get rid of these constraints: The difference between him and other performers was that when the show was over he did not take off his rope (Aichinger, 7). In such a way, he remained tied up, but he probably believed that the rope protects him from the society, distinguishes him from other people. But, as the matter of fact, the rope proved to be the tool which kept him under the control of the society. The rope made him a kind of puppet, while the society was puppeteers who attempted to jerk the rope to make him move as people wanted. This is why he was eager to keep the rope tight, while as soon as the rope is loosened the society takes total control over him. At the same time, it is obvious that it is through the rope the conflict between the bound man and the society actually occurs.

Remarkably, In his dreams he forgot the rope, and was surprised by it when he woke in the darkness of the morning. He would angrily try to get up, but lose his balance and fall back again (Aichinger, 10). In such a way, the author shows existential anxiety since an individual struggles with the rope and simultaneously he is anxious of loosing it. The theme of existential anxiety is very popular in existentialism. In The Bound Man this theme is revealed through the internal struggle of the bound man and his subconscious fear of being untied one day.

His dreams in which he can be freed are rather nightmares than ordinary dreams. He feels fear when he dreams of his own liberation of bounds. However, he cannot understand reasons of this fear nor he can explain it for himself. No wonder, he cannot explain other people why he is tied up, but the prospect of being untied makes him worried, if not to say panic. At the same time, in the real world when he feels the rope he get angry and probably he is upset that he cannot set himself free. In such a way, the bound man is anxious to liberate himself, when he is awake, but he cannot imagine the life without the rope that makes him anxious too.

At the same time, his position is ridiculous, but when the proprietor’s wife asked whether he did not think it ridiculous to be tied up all the time, but he answered that he did not (Aichinger, 11). In such a way, the author shows that the bound man does not really know what the life is. He wants to stay bound but he does not know the reason why. Thus, the theme of the dark nights of the soul is revealed. In fact, the bound man cannot adequately explain why he stays bound. It is a kind of the internal struggle, in which the bound man always loses. He can neither liberate himself nor stay bound. In such a situation, he is constantly struggling with himself that proves that the bound man still does not see any purpose in his life. He simply lives on and continues the existence he has already got accustomed to. His soul is still in the search of the purpose and sense of life.

On analyzing the cause and origin of the conflict between the individual and the society, it becomes obvious that the author stands on the ground that the conflict is provoked by the society, but not the bound man. In such a way, Aichinger shifts responsibility for the conflict from the individual to the society. In such a context, it is quite logical that the bound man always attempted to escape from the society and to avoid conflict with the society: He preferred staying in shade (Aichinger, 7). What he did want was to remain himself. He definitely wanted people left him alone. In this desire to remain himself, the bound man is ready to fight till the end of his life and put under a threat his life. But the society keeps him restrained and, in fact, it is the society that tied him up since robbers tied him up to get his money.

However, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that eventually the bound man gives in to the demand of the spectators to kill the wolf.

He is ready to kill the animal that proves that he obeys to the society. But, on analyzing his true motives, it becomes obvious that he does it to demonstrate that he is really capable to kill the animal and, what is more, that he is different from other people. Consequently, the personal philosophy of the bound man, his independence from social biases and prejudices forces him to obey to the demand of the society but he does it only to prove that the society is wrong in its views on the individual.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Aichinger reveals a profound conflict between the individual and the society. The author stands on the ground that the conflict is provoked by the society, while the individual comes into conflict with the society when he or she avoids conformism and attempts to protect his or her own views, beliefs and lifestyle at large.




The awakening awakening of the bound man’s self-consciousness and desire to escape from the real world (p. 1-2)

Loneliness of the bound man in the natural environment. Harmony of man and nature (p.3-4)

In spite of the fame of the bound man grows, he still remains within the limit set by his rope that symbolizes the limitation of an individual’s freedom and social restrictions (p.6-7)

The bound man comes into conflict with society when he is robbed and tied up, but he remains tied up to be different from other people, emphasizing his individuality, being unwilling to be untied (p.8)

The mystery of the origin of the bound man he never revealed what actually happened in the wood (p.9)

The absurd universe the bound man can free himself but does not want to (p.10)

The internal anxiety and struggle of the bound man with his own self, when he dreams of possibility of liberation and rope that keeps him bound (p.10)

The proprietor’s wife cannot understand the bound man but still admires him. She cannot understand why he remains tied up but cannot believe that he will stay with them when he is untied (p.11-12)

The autumn was coming but the bound man proved to be unable to get rid of the rope and free himself (p.13)

The escape of the wolf as a symbol of liberation of an individual, who cannot live being totally restrained by the society (p.14)

The bound man took care to obey the rope that implies his dependence on the rope, which may symbolize social biases and stereotypes and the control over an individual from the part of the society (p.15)

However, the bound man did not feel the rope that implies his liberation and conventionality of the rope (p.16)

As soon as the rope is loosened, the bound man grows more and more uncertain that actually proves that his liberation was not real but rather pretended (p.17)

The proprietor’s wife defends the bound man but she does it not convincingly. She just wants to escape the open conflict with the spectators (p.18)

The bound man is united with his rope but not fully conscious that he has a choice in his life. Even though the rope does not really tie him up he is unable to become absolutely free (p.20)

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