"The Marquise of O-": An Exercise in Ambiguity
When one first reads Heinrich von Kleist's "The Marquise of O-", it is difficult to form a solid perception of the events in the story. Many details and actions in the book are incomplete, nebulous, and unresolved. This characteristic of the work is the mouthpiece of Kleist's Kantian Crisis, which basically states that humans cannot have any knowledge of their world unless it is consciously perceived by their senses. Due to this theory, "The Marquise of O-" is a homogeneous mix of moral and immoral events, and the reader as well as Kleist's characters are unable to get much, if any ethical meaning or value from their actions.
One of the first examples of strange happenings in the book is the Count's apparent death. Fairly soon into the book, the Commandant's family is told by a "trusty" messenger that the Count has died. Two paragraphs later however, he reappears again, without a real explanation of the death itself or of the relevance. The book never mentions the Count's brush with death again, which adds to the work's detached, shallow style.
Even the central conflict of the story itself is vague, and is shrouded in mystery from the beginning. A brave hero saves a fair maiden from would-be rapists and brutes, yet weeks later she finds herself pregnant. When the hero, the Count, asks for the Marquise's hand in marriage for the first time, none of the family know what to think; they are completely bewildered by the Count's speedy courting. Kleist describes the characters as "bewildered," "dismayed," and "scarcely believing his eyes" (Kleist 80-1). This demonstrates the family's inability to reason correctly, and they almost cannot perceive of anything beyond their normal sensory perceptions. The Kantian Crisis strikes again when, after the Marquise...