Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Böll was able to write in the late 1940’s only because his wife’s income as an English teacher was enough to support their family. He was aware that he was working with a radically changed language. It was Stunde null, the “zero hour.” He had to work without and around all the words whose meanings had been changed by Nazi propaganda. Hence his relatively simple, straightforward language and conversational tone. The voice that he uses is that of the common man, and his viewpoint is that of private, personal experience. He narrates in the first person without interpreting. He portrays without preaching. He is kindly. This style and attitude greatly impressed his fellow writers in the Group of 47, although he neither feared their criticism nor sought to win their favor. As a result, he won their prize in 1951, the first of many.

One distinctive feature of Böll’s style that is much in evidence in “Across the Bridge” is his tendency to end paragraphs with ellipses. He avoids going into more detail than is necessary, leaving open multiple meanings that may or may not contribute to the advancement of his story. For example, after mentioning the large manila folder of “Pending Cases,” Böll ends his second paragraph with the sentence: “Being only a messenger, of course, I never was told what was in the folder. . . .” This ellipsis serves both to characterize Grabowski as uninterested in the Third Reich’s bureaucracy, and to let...

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