Gottlieb Biedermann, a solid citizen and the millionaire manufacturer of a dubious hair tonic. His name suggests a respectable, unimaginative bourgeois who adheres rigidly to the social and ethical standards of his class (bieder means upright, worthy, or gullible). He accordingly believes in hanging as the proper punishment for the arsonists who are at large in the city, according to the newspapers. When a suspicious looking stranger suddenly appears in his living room, Biedermann yields without a struggle to his thinly veiled threats, face-savingly disguised as appeals to humane principles. Far from expelling the stranger, Biedermann allows him to order a meal and then to install himself in the attic. Biedermann’s vaunted firmness shows itself only in the case of Knechtling, a dismissed employee with a legitimate claim, whom he drives to suicide. With the intruder, later joined by two companions, Biedermann extends his cowardice and self-deception to protecting his “guests” from police investigation, explaining that the gasoline canisters they have brought into the house contain hair tonic. Finally, he provides the matches with which the arsonists, who have barely troubled to conceal their intentions, light the fuses when the outskirts of the town are in flames. Eisenring suggests that a troubled conscience prevents him from reporting the arsonists to the police. The dinner party that Biedermann arranges in rough...
(The entire section is 554 words.)