Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Across the Bridge” has attracted little critical notice and makes an unostentatious beginning to the twenty-five stories that Heinrich Böll published in 1950 as Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa (Traveller, If You Come to Spa, 1956). Indeed his narrator introduces the story with the remark that “maybe it isn’t really a story at all.” Böll offers no interpretive guidelines for the reader. He does not even say precisely what it is that Grabowski feels so intensely: “an indefinable emotion.” If indeed “it isn’t really a story at all,” one is left with an account of a coincidence. Authors frequently have their narrators utter such disclaimers, however. The reader is expected to have more insight into their circumstances than the narrators do, and thus participates in the act of fiction by supplying the ending and its rationale.

If one regards “Across the Bridge” as primarily a contrast of things great and small, then one may see that by taking a second snapshot ten tears later, Böll cleverly inverts their relative positions. Much goes without saying. Reference to the Reich Gun Dog and Retriever Association, for example, suffices to conjure up all that was associated with the Third Reich—which Adolf Hitler claimed would last a thousand years. Böll can afford to understate the irony. Everyone knows the Germans lost the war.

Böll was as disinterested in National Socialism as Grabowski is in the contents of...

(The entire section is 503 words.)