Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Thomas Bernhard's work remains controversial after more than twenty years of critical acclaim. Attempts to interpret his work according to traditional literary standards have generated as many questions as answers. Anneliese Botond believes Bernhard's work cannot be understood only through literary analysis, and Gudrun Mauch proposes that Jungian archetypes are present in his autobiographical novels. Critics agree, however, that Bernhard portrays mad protagonists in a seemingly insane world. The present study analyzes schizophrenia, myth, and the creative process in Bernhard's work to propose purpose for his descriptions of madness. This study also addresses questions posed by J. de Cort, who asks whether Bernhard's work is actually a metaphor for the insanity of an alienated world; whether resignation is the only course of action for man in the contemporary world; and whether Bernhard narrows the scope of his themes by concentrating on the fate of the individual in isolated country locales. The theories of R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz serve as foundations for working definitions for deviance and schizophrenia. Prototypes for the schizophrenic and deviant are shown to proliferate in Bernhard's early work, Ereignisse, and in his first autobiographical novel, Die Ursache. The development of these prototypes is traced in his later prose works. This study proposes that Bernhard's portrayal of deviance, clinical psychosis, and schizophrenia corresponds to the journey of the mythological hero to the mythic center of creation. Jungian archetypes and the archetypal gestures described by M. Eliade are shown to be recurrent images in Bernhard's work. After establishing that Bernhard's mad figures do in fact enter upon a mythological journey, the purpose of the journey is defined. In Am Ortler Bernhard reveals the destructive yet regenerative nature of the creative process. He describes the creative act as a pathological process. Yet he shows that human relatedness and harmony between Logos (animus) and Eros (anima) are essential for the creative process. By insisting that man recognize his own darker instincts and impulses and by pointing out the recurrent negative aspects of life in a historical, linear society, Bernhard ascribes absolute meaning to life through the creative process.