The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr

Title: The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr Summary

Author: E.T.A. Hoffmann
Publish Date: 1820-1822
Genre: Bildungsroman, Satire
Page Length: Approximately 300 pages (depending on edition)


The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr written by E.T.A. Hoffmann is a satirical bildungsroman novel published between 1820 and 1822. Throughout its course, the book explores themes of self-discovery, societal norms, and artistic expression. Spanning several chapters, the story is divided between the autobiography of the Tomcat Murr and a biography of a human student named Johannes Kreisler. Although separate, these narratives intermingle, shedding light on the human condition and the importance of embracing individuality in the face of societal expectations.

The novel begins with the life story of Murr, a remarkably intelligent tomcat with a penchant for books. Murr narrates his upbringing in a small German town, focusing on his interactions with a tailor and his son, Master Fleetermice. These encounters shape Murr’s understanding of human behavior, language, and culture. Eventually, Murr becomes the apprentice of the local organist, Serpentinus, who encourages the cat to explore his musical talents. However, Murr’s aspirations are met with skepticism from society, highlighting the societal prejudice faced by those who do not conform to established norms.

As the novel progresses, chapters alternate between Murr’s story and the biography of Johannes Kreisler, a young music student. Kreisler’s narrative explores similar themes of societal pressure and artistic expression. Amidst his studies, Kreisler falls in love with a fellow student, Antonie, and becomes entangled in a complicated romantic relationship. Seeking refuge from the oppressive expectations of society, Kreisler turns to his music for solace, ultimately expressing his emotions through his compositions.

The intertwining narratives continue as Murr’s tale unfolds. Abandoned by his mentor, Serpentinus, Murr is left to reflect on his own experiences and develop his principles for life. Murr’s story ultimately culminates in his transformation from a naive and curious tomcat into a mature and self-aware individual who values his artistic endeavors. Evident in his memoirs is Murr’s dedication to breaking free from societal constraints and celebrating the unique inner spirit that defines every individual.

Meanwhile, the biography of Kreisler presents his journey as an artist consumed by his personal demons and frustrations with society. Kreisler’s intense emotions propel him towards madness, leading to increasingly erratic behavior and bouts of self-isolation. Through Kreisler’s story, Hoffmann criticizes the stifling effects of societal expectations on the artistic soul, demonstrating the consequences of suppressing one’s individuality.

The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr is regarded as a significant work in German Romantic literature. By intertwining the stories of the tomcat and the human, Hoffmann emphasizes the interconnectedness of the animal and human worlds, questioning the distinction between them. The novel serves as a critique of societal norms and conformity, highlighting the transformative power of pursuing personal passions and individuality.

Overall, through its alternating narratives, the novel encourages readers to defy societal expectations and embrace one’s unique identity. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr serves as a thought-provoking exploration of self-discovery, artistic expression, and the importance of remaining true to oneself in the face of societal pressures.