When I Was a Boy Essay - Critical Essays

Erich Kästner


In When I Was a Boy, Kästner always tries to tell the whole story—that is, both the dark and the bright sides of his childhood. When he admits that “memory and recollection are mysterious powers,” he concedes that he is also inventing stories, which to some degree read like some of those he invented for his children’s books. Even the latter, because of Kästner’s gift for telling stories well, however, sparkle with life. He attributes his ability to judge what is beautiful and what is ugly to his “good fortune in having grown up in Dresden,” that “wonderful” city where he was born on February 23, 1899.

He stresses long-term experiences that shaped his adult life and that influenced his literary works. His awareness that money was tight in his family is a central theme. This contrasts with Franz, who was his favorite uncle although—and because—he was “as rude as a pig.” A family tyrant who was obsessed with his work, Franz was the family member who became a millionaire. In contrast, Kästner’s parents decided to sublet a room when Erich was quite young: The apartment “was small enough already, but the family purse was still smaller.” Each of the subtenants, however, was pleasant—and a teacher. One of them in particular became a good friend to little Erich, who in turn soon wanted to become a teacher himself, a decision that meant a considerable financial burden for his parents. At a time when women had few career opportunities, his mother decided to become a hairdresser at the age of thirty-five in order to save money for Erich’s education: “And when my mother...

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