Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In Understanding Heinrich Böll (1992), Robert C. Conard convincingly argues that understanding Böll involves knowing his history. Böll grew up in Germany during the tumultuous years following World War I. His liberal Roman Catholic parents opposed Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and Böll was in fact the only boy in his class who was not a member of the Hitler Youth. He chose not to join because he did not like the marching and the uniforms. Because of the unstable government and economy following World War I, Böll’s parents struggled from day to day to support themselves and their children.

As an adult, Böll was recruited to fight in World War II, but he repeatedly tried to get out of Hitler’s army. He refused to be promoted to an officer, thinking it wrong to distance himself from the common troops. After being injured four times over six years, he felt relieved when he was captured by American soldiers. His experiences left him strongly prodemocratic and anticapitalist and skeptical of politics and politicians in general. In his later years, he became a member of Germany’s Green Party because he shared their views on disarmament, the environment, and capitalism. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972. Böll contended that the day-to-day misery of his early life in Germany—not the war—convinced him to be a writer. He believed that the writer was duty-bound to blend art with political and social commentary.

The narrator...

(The entire section is 404 words.)