(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.)


(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.)