Although both its artistry and its themes have drawn contradictory evaluations, The Clown artfully reveals the perceptions of the title character, Hans Schnier. Hans’s past-tense narration of three crucial hours creates the immediacy of stream of consciousness, punctuated with telephone conversations that trigger Hans’s opinionated memories of his childhood in World War II and his life as an outsider in the postwar period.
Returning to his Bonn apartment, drunken, failed, and penniless after an injury on stage, Hans, the scion of the “brown-coal Schniers,” who has separated himself from his wealthy family and their values, grieves that his companion, Marie Derkam, the Catholic daughter of an old socialist, has left him after seven years to marry Heribert Züpfner, a Catholic lay functionary. Hans telephones his family and Marie’s circle of Catholics to seek money and news of Marie. In conversations with the Catholic officials, Hans espouses the spiritual and sensual marriage in which the lovers “offer each other the sacrament” and rejects the validity of legal and ecclesiastical marriage if it lacks reciprocal grace. Denying the virtue of Hans’s relationship with Marie, the Catholics defend submission to “abstract principles of order” and reveal that Marie and Züpfner are honeymooning in Rome.
A call to Hans’s socially prominent mother, a nationalist racist who in 1945 urged a last stand of children against the “Jewish Yankee” but now...
(The entire section is 612 words.)