Earthquake in Chile

While reading the Earthquake in Chile I was constantly hoping for the best when it came to Jeronimo and Josefa and the life they planned on having together. However, deep down I knew Kleist was not going to write a fairy-tale styled love story, he was writing a critique of sorts.  During lecture, we talked about how Kleist’s short story was supposedly representing four earthquakes that happened in his time period. By seemingly writing about the earthquake that took place in Chile, he can safely add in his critiques of what was going on around him. Considering Kleist has never been to Chile, and his exaggeration of the damage done by the earthquake in Chile, we can interpret that the title is likely a cover up. In a way, Kleist reminds me of Rousseau by how he writes the events in his story. First, the very pitiful Jeronimo is in jail debating suicide because he got his lover pregnant out of wedlock and she will be facing a death penalty. They are both seen as criminals in their society, therefore Jeronimo feels the need to end his life because he could not live without Josefa. However, then the earthquake happens which is symbolic because it not only breaks apart the city, it causes the societal structure to crumble as well. With the societal structure crumbling, the people forget how they are supposed to behave and Jeronimo and Josefa get to be together happily. It reminds me of Rousseau in the sense that the people have to leave behind society and civilization in order to treat each other with humanity and for them to find peace. Then, they lose their sense of peace once they re-enter the city and go into the church. Overall, it seems like there is a hidden interpretation saying that societies fall apart before realizing how screwed up they are, or until individuals realize how screwed up the societies are. In this story, Don Fernando has to witness and lose a child to the corruptness of his society, before he becomes an individual who can see the bad in their society.

1 Thought.

  1. I just realized I never commented on some of these blog posts from the last week of class! So sorry about that.

    I definitely agree with you about seeing Rousseau in this story. I don’t know if Kleist had read Rousseau and had that in mind, but the story certainly has Rousseau-ian ideas such as the corruptness of society, the focus on one’s own status and being better than others, the lack of “pity” (repugnance at seeing others suffer), and the idea that outside of civil society life would be better. It also feels like Rousseau in that Rousseau says it’s impossible to go back to a life in the woods, without civilization, and that is what Kleist could be suggesting as well. They can have an idyllic life in the woods but it can’t last, and people go back to being their cruel selves in the city.

    Also good point here on how Kleist writes about an earthquake in a very different place at a very different time than his own, and that this can allow him to make a social commentary about his own time in an oblique way. This is what Brecht suggests one do in “Writing the Truth” when he talks about having the “cunning” to present the truth in a way that the authorities won’t be upset with what you’re doing!

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