Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Hans Schnier

Hans Schnier (shneer), a professional clown. All events in this first-person novel are seen through the eyes of Hans, the twenty-seven-year-old son of a wealthy industrialist. He is not, however, the typical son of a rich businessman. As a youth, he showed little aptitude for school, and he has never had any interest in business. Instead, Hans has the character traits and temperament of an artist: He is spontaneous, impulsive, creative, naïve, and innocent, and he cannot feign feelings that he does not possess. Nor can he, as someone once urged him, “be a man.” To “be a man,” he would have to become like everyone else, which he cannot and will not do. Similarly, he cannot act on his father’s criticism that he lacks the very quality that makes a man a man: the ability to accept a situation. Hans, unlike most of his friends and acquaintances, does not want to accept the past and gloss it over, nor does he want to be merely swept along by the new tide of democracy. These qualities make him a misfit and an outsider. The loss of Marie destroys his primary link to the real world. Without her, he turns more and more to drink and ends up alone, playing his guitar and singing for a few coins from passersby at the train station.

Marie Derkum

Marie Derkum (DEHR-kuhm), the young woman whom Hans considers to be his wife, although they are not legally married. Sweet, trusting, and religious, Marie is in many ways the antithesis of Hans: She is from a very poor background, performed well in school, and is a devout Catholic. In time, her desire to return to the good graces of the church and to have a conventional, church-sanctioned marriage overcomes her love of Hans, and she leaves him to marry Prelate Züpfner.

Alfons Schnier

Alfons Schnier, the director of a...

(The entire section is 769 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Hans, as a clown, immediately evokes several cultural and historical associations. First, he is Pagliacci, the clown who is “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside” as a result of his separation from Marie. Despite his spontaneity and innocence, at the age of twenty-seven he is no longer a romantic youth but a mature adult who has not joined the establishment because of his nature and profession. He is not an acquisitive materialist; he enjoys simple pleasures such as playing Parcheesi, taking long baths, reading newspapers, singing liturgical music, and making love with Marie.

Second, Hans conforms to the archetype of the medieval fool, who, because of his fool’s freedom, is allowed to speak openly; that is, he has official permission to make any statement, regardless of its veracity, as long as it is entertaining. Ironically, these pronouncements frequently represent truth or wisdom. As a clown, Hans shows audiences the comic nature of their everyday routine, the foolishness behind their overly serious drive to succeed and acquire. Hans’s strength of character and single-minded purpose make him a sympathetic individual even though, in his private life, Hans cannot help but alienate those powerful figures whose lives he exposes.

Though Hans is an artist, and the reader learns much about his life-style and preferences, his experiences and convictions, this work is not primarily a Kunstlerroman. Heinrich Böll uses the artist as an outsider, a knowledgeable but distanced observer of German society—most specifically, the influential circles of church...

(The entire section is 654 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Hans Schnier is the "Clown" of the novel's title and invariably the spokesperson for Boll as the author. A contradiction of terms, the...

(The entire section is 237 words.)