Themes and Meanings
This work could be categorized as the first telephone novel in literary history. With the exception of his father’s visit and a brief encounter in the hall with a neighbor’s wife, Hans’s contact with the outside world is maintained exclusively by means of this modern instrument. While Böll is able to create telephone dialogues as effective as traditional dramatic discourse, such conversations serve primarily as stimuli; they trigger Hans’s memory, and the recollections, in turn, constitute the bulk of the novel. The various conversations also lend credibility to the predominantly subjective narrative stance from which Hans Schnier tells his own story; his monologues and memories could be seen as the mistaken ramblings of a paranoid young man were it not for corroborative statements made in these telephone conversations.
A recurring theme in Böll’s works concerns the reactions of contemporary society to its guilt-ridden past of Fascism and war. Since society has repressed its historical past in favor of reconstruction and restoration, there is no one but this obscure clown to provide a social conscience. His commentary—indeed, his presence—is unwelcome, as it exposes hypocrisy in the highest circles. For Böll, the one institution which most dramatically exemplifies con-temporary hypocrisy is the Catholic Church; since Böll has chosen Bonn as the site for this work, the Church there should be seen as representative of all West Germany. The...
(The entire section is 476 words.)