While I read The Dykemaster by Theodor Storm, I was struck by his ability to carve the sounds, actions, and power of life in a living and constantly changing world out of written words. Greed, drive, and nature itself become as detailed and important as any character in the novella and leads the story through its completion. During the novella, Storm shows the readers that having an incredible passion or desire to accomplish something will drive a person more than any other bribe or award.
Hauke Haien, the main character in this novella, has been more interested in the works of Euclid, geometry and mathematics, than the cows and farm work like the other village children. Hauke tells his father at one point that “the dykes must be changed! (P. 20). ” whereupon his father halfheartedly challenges him to become the next dykemaster. Hauke takes up this challenge wholeheartedly and begins to work as a farmhand for the present dykemaster. The dykemaster uses Hauke’s observations and criticisms on the condition of the dyke to amend his past leniency.
After the dykemaster dies, Hauke’s father gives him the land that he owned to help him have the power needed to gain the dykemaster’s position. His engagement and marriage to Elke, the daughter of the deceased dykemaster, gave him more than enough land to be accepted in addition to the local landowners knowing that it had been Hauke’s words that had forced the dykemaster to repair the dyke. His further innovations called for a new dyke to be made that would increase available land and income.
Hauke was incredible proud of his new dyke that had been named after him along with the polder it protected. To many people, power is a strong motivator, and with it comes greed in many forms. The readers see that “hereditary intelligence dries up by the third generation (p. 31)” in the present dykemaster. They are shown on many occasions that his only loves are eating and drinking and not to his official duties where he had “persistently offended against the rules (p. 36). Greed came in the form of Ole Peters marrying a woman only for the power and land that he would receive as a result.
The most tragic greed in the story came from Hauke himself. He wanted so desperately to complete his new dyke, because it was his own work and would provide much more land and income, he neglected to make the necessary repairs to the old one, which eventually led to the death of his wife and child. Nature in all its glory and power has always been a force to be reckoned with.
For the Friesians, there was a constant battle with the forces of the sea and storms. These storms become personified by “bellowing with rage, (p. 13)” being able to “talk… and have legs (p. 96)” to get over the dyke if it so wished. To add to the superstition of the people, plagues of insects and vermin that attacked the villagers, making them believe that there was something amiss in the township. With superstitions always comes a scapegoat and in this case it was Hauke Haien.
Theodor Storm shows how people can be affected by natural phenomenon. In the end, nature came about full turn and dispatched with the lives of Elke, their child Weinke, and the Der Schimmerlreiter himself by his own hands. This story was very interesting and kept the reader’s attention at all times. Theodor Storm’s work deserves and honors the distinction of a classic in German literature for his imaginative writing, use of detail, and human and inhuman difficulties.