Lost Family Essay, Research Paper
In Steven Ozment s Magdalena and Balthasar, one is able to understand the life of a
unique merchant family in sixteenth-century Europe. Magdalena and Balthasar are a
humble couple with extraordinary styles of living. The two are separated due to business
related professions; however, they communicate mainly through letters. Through these
letters they release their beliefs about marriage, parenting, and religion. These beliefs
caught from their letters also allow an in depth look at the customs of their time.
As lovers separated by months at a time due to Balthasar s work as a merchant,
Magdalena and Balthasar wrote letters to retain their relationship. Taking pieces from
these letters, one can formulate their thoughts and their feelings toward each other. Their
relationship was one of respect, love, and compromise. Magdalena and Balthasar s
relationship might have been so strong due to their similar backgrounds. Both were very
close to the other members in their families, involved in private and business aspects.
Both had an impressive pedigree as well. Some family members held various positions on
councils, and their families came from a line of successful merchants in Nuremberg.
Despite Magdalena and Balthasar s ancestry, they were extraordinarily different. They
were not rich, or in high positions; however, they had enough to satisfy their needs. In
comparison to the rest of Nuremberg, Magdalena and Balthasar were an average middle
class merchant family.
When one looks at Magdalena and Balthasar s marriage, he or she will realize it is
anything but below average. With their present day society, the husband is the dominant
figure and the wife is left with the household duties and children. However, Magdalena
and Balthasar had a relationship based on mutuality. This bond will bring equal
understanding and equal responsibility to both, which will in turn make their love grow.
This growing love is mentioned and expressed in every letter written. Magdalena
expresses her love for Balthasar by adding sentimental materials in her letters. An
example is when she folds flowers from their garden into her letters to him…and on one
occasion she included a string for Balthasar to bind about his wrist as a token of their
friendly bond (28). Balthasar expresses his love for Magdalena primarily through prose.
Every letter he writes to Magdalena, he address her as his honest, good, true, friendly,
dearest, closest bride (28). These words may sound subtle; however, these words are
very passionate and sentimental in their time.
Along with love, Magdalena and Balthasar had a strong foundation of trust. Since
Balthasar was away from home due to his career, Magdalena was to take care of the
affairs at home. In order for Balthasar to have his affairs taken care of, he must trust
someone to do them for him. Balthasar respected and regularly sought Magdalena s
business judgment (75). It is normal for a woman to take care of her husbands affairs
when he is away on business, but it still requires a significant amount of trust. The trust
and love Balthasar had toward his wife is vast; however, he does not totally give himself.
Balthasar retains an amount of authority for himself, and tends to disagree occasionally.
When they disagree, they tend to compromise, but on the terms that favored the
father (95). Magdalena knew that she was somewhat inferior and not totally equal when
she says, Of course, in this matter it is yours to do as you please (79). The balance
between trust and compromise that Magdalena and Balthasar display, is unique to their
relationship and unique to their present day. This balance will prove to be unique in
relationships in the future, even in twentieth-century society.
In the methods of parenting is where one will find the greatest contrast and similarities
between Magdalena and Balthasar. The difference in parenting mainly comes from their
choice of style. Magdalena is the comforting and understanding parent, while Balthasar
was the strict and disciplinary parent. When Balthasar would leave, he would instruct
Magdalena to tell little Balthasar to be good, for the time being, otherwise I will bring
him nothing (94). Little Balthasar knew that his father had that strict personality, and
understood his fathers demands because little Balthasar also knew his father to be a man
who demanded of others almost as much as he was capable of giving… (92). Magdalena
understands the difficulty of Balthasar s demands and sympathizes with her son, showing
her protective and motherly instincts. Magdalena is advocate and sentinel for her son,
reminding the absent father of the boy s worthiness and encouraging paternal recognition
and praise (92). The most similar parenting style between the two is their love for their
son. The love and support from both Magdalena and Balthasar is extraordinary and adds
to their uniqueness. They provided their son a good education, food, a home, and support
to his needs. Sadly, their son died; however, it had nothing to do with parenting. They
turned to each other for support and comfort in depressing times. This common love and
loss for their son is very unique for their time, and proves to be unique even in twentieth-
Religion is a very important aspect of sixteenth-century life and proves to be another
unique characteristic of Magdalena and Balthasar. Magdalena and Balthasar believe God
is involved in everyday life and is in absolute control. They think of God as an
absolutely omnipotent being, who controls human destiny on earth and into
eternity… (144). If someone loses a business deal, gets infected by an illness, or
experiences the death of an only child, Magdalena and Balthasar believe it is an obvious
punishment of God (144). Religion is an essential part of life for Magdalena and
Balthasar and following his control is necessary for their prosperity. They are true
believers who constantly find God at the boundary between success and failure, sickness
and health, life and death-and they hold him responsible for all (143).
Through Magdalena and Balthasar s beliefs and actions in marriage, parenting, and
religion, they are truly ahead of their time. Having this collection of letters illustrates the
life of a sixteenth-century family and portrays the hardships of a medieval time period.
Many can read Magdalena and Balthasar and learn what it takes to love one another, raise
a child, and have religion as a central part of life. This may seem common; however, one
must realize that the letters are from a time when these actions were uncommon.
Magdalena and Balthasar are a twentieth-century family living in a medieval time. These
letters were collected because of that fact and should be read with admiration and