Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Seventh Trunk” is Heinrich Böll’s attempt to provide, in a fictional form, a description of his own artistic process. As a member of the school of German authors and critics known as Gruppe 47 (Group 47), Böll sought to purge his country’s literary style of the complex clauses and linguistic density that had come to be associated with the Nazis and Prussian militarism. At the same time, he strove to simplify the plots of his stories as well. Building on few details and even fewer characters, Böll hoped to create stories that would spring spontaneously to life, rather like the mice leaping from the boxes described by his narrator’s great-grandmother.

Although “The Seventh Trunk” is very brief, each detail in it is of great significance. Both the spot of brown chocolate on the young girl’s dress and the one mistyped word in Hermes’s short story are seemingly insignificant flaws that become focal points in the lives of people who notice them. Both Hermes’s story and Knecht’s pamphlet are lost in the same knapsack during the war. These two items are symbols of perfection, the illusions of a lost paradise that the narrator hopes to regain.

Perhaps the most important image in the story is that of boxes and their valuable contents. The cases containing the archives of the Bockelmunden Parish News that were burned at the end of the war, Knecht’s theory of the seven trunks, and the cardboard box from which mice leap spontaneously, all are representations of fiction itself. Böll suggests that the truth that fiction contains is sometimes developed from the humblest of materials. All the author need do is to assemble the proper ingredients and allow them to come to life in the mind of the reader.