A systematic discussion of Arthur Schnitzler's prose works discloses a hitherto neglected feature of his style. In his portrayal of contemporary figures one recognizes not only a humorously critical or skeptically elegiac attitude, but a new variant which is caricature. It becomes evident that the author chose a fictional mode which deviates from mimetic contours and which is the perfect medium to portray the wavering world of the fin-de-siecle and its human types. An analysis of the exaggerating narrative technique of caricature reveals the author's aggressive nature which until now has remained unnoticed. It underlines an aspect of his aversion to the artificiality and to the false doctrines of a doomed society, that of attempting, in his search for truth, to surpass a realistic narration by means of caricaturistic representation. It is his intent to provide new insights into human nature by overstating the conflicts between humaneness and evil which are most firmly pronounced in his narcissistic and sensitive characters.
Caricature as an ambiguous narrative technique touches upon such related phenomena as satire and the grotesque. This relationship is discussed in the first chapter in order to define its distinct characteristics: satire is largely polemic in nature, and the grotesque is frequently an expression of abysmal and marionette-like qualities in people. Caricature, however, while sharing certain aspects of satire and the grotesque, is nonetheless a stylistic phenomenon in its own right. By exposing and magnifying man's moral ugliness as well as his presumptuousness it strips him of his power over others. The rejected human being appears ridiculous to the viewer who compares perceived reality and its distortion. This produces a sense of superiority in him which elicits laughter. By adding the subjective influence of the comic, however, a threatening exaggeration of the type can have appeasing force while only the sublime phenomena of humor can bring about exaltation and freedom of the ego.
The second chapter discusses those fictional characters which can be recognized as belonging to distinct social types. They are officers, burghers, adventurers, artists, Jews, and antisemites. The important aspect is the pattern which they exhibit in their behavior and which defines them as social types. The stylistic means of caricature illuminates a new perspective by directing the reader's view towards a chaotic inner world through the exaggerated distortion of man's external deficiencies. The intent is to frighten, to teach, and to amuse.
The conclusion reiterates how the literary technique of caricature helped Schnitzler present a convincing picture of Viennese society at the turn of the last century which still engages us today. While the different social types have been carefully arranged in order to be unmasked before the psychologist's scrutinizing eye, the reader obtains a penetrating and truthful insight into the chaos of the individual mind. Thus the caricaturistic mode of expression can be considered a positive means to institute a more compassionate coexistence among people.