(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.)

The Clown Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Clown is a first-person narrative which exposes the accommodations of postwar West German society to the success of the Economic Miracle, that astounding industrial recovery after the destruction of World War II. Members of the highest circles of society, with representatives from church and state as well as the military and industry, have conveniently forgotten the recent past in order to further their personal or institutional successes. They are conformists who no longer recognize their hypocritical existences—until reminded by a renegade clown. For his continued impudence, the clown must suffer without recourse. He lacks the unscrupulous behavior (often disguised as piety, generosity, and human concern) with which the others can so easily dispatch him.

Three months after his girlfriend, Marie Derkum, has left him, Hans Schnier falls during a drunken performance in Bochum and injures his knee. His career is faltering as he returns alone and destitute to his hometown of Bonn. From his apartment, he communicates with family, friends, and acquaintances by telephone, ostensibly to borrow money but also to rally support to reclaim “his” Marie. These calls are interspersed with his memories of past events. Thus, gradually, the chronology of the entire story unfolds. The novel’s action spans no more than four hours on a March evening.

First, Hans telephones his mother, an “incredibly stupid, and stingy” woman. A German nationalist and racist during the war, when she sent her only daughter Henrietta to fight (and die) on the home front, she is now on the executive committee of the Societies for the Reconciliation of Racial Differences. Hans cannot bring himself to beg for money from this hypocrite, so he insults her with memories of her injustices during the Third Reich and hangs up.

During unsuccessful attempts to telephone his brother, Leo, in a seminary, Hans recalls his seduction of Marie six years before, their affair or “marriage,” her two miscarriages, and her leaving him in Hanover after meeting the Catholics Sommerwild...

(The entire section is 853 words.)

The Clown Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Hans Schnier, a professional clown, returns to Bonn, his hometown, after he injures his knee performing his act while drunk. When Schnier arrives in Bonn, he has little money (his last employer refused to pay his full fee), no savings, and little hope of future work. Only weeks before this injury, Schnier was a highly paid, well-regarded performer earning enough to live in luxury hotels with Marie Derkum, his lover and companion. When Marie leaves him to marry Heribert Züpfner, a Catholic official and a member of a religious group to which Marie belongs, Schnier ceases to care about the quality of his work as a clown. He stops practicing and starts to drink more, which causes his performances to decline rapidly.

From his Bonn apartment, Schnier calls friends and family members, hoping for monetary and emotional support. However, each of his actions, even his conversations, triggers painful memories. At first these flashbacks are brief recollections of Marie and her group of progressive Catholics, but the reveries increase in length. In one of his early flashbacks, Schnier remembers his sister affectionately; she often acted unconventionally, saying and doing what she felt. With her parents’ encouragement, especially that of her mother, this sister was sent on antiaircraft duty in February, 1945, on a mission that killed her. Schnier blames his mother’s nationalistic fervor for his sister’s death, and when he calls his mother, her official tone and her greeting phrase—“Executive Committee of the Societies for the Reconciliation of Racial Differences”—angers Schnier and reminds him of his mother’s zeal when sending her daughter off to save German soil from “Jewish Yankees.” Although Schnier is calling his mother to ask for her support, he cruelly answers her greeting by saying, “I am a delegate of the Executive Committee of Jewish Yankees, just passing through—may I please speak to your daughter?” Mrs. Schnier is momentarily hurt, but she recovers quickly and rebuffs her son with her severe, dogmatic manner.

After the conversation with his mother, Schnier thinks of Marie, and that triggers the memory of an event that occurred six years earlier and resulted in the consummation of their relationship. Hans was twenty-one and Marie nineteen when he went boldly to her room and slept with her. After this, Marie dropped out of school, and Schnier left his family to begin his career as a clown, but his career developed slowly and the two barely earned enough money to survive. They both wanted children, but Marie had a number of...

(The entire section is 1052 words.)