Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Böll’s title suggests that Katharina’s “lost honor” is an individual example of how people are destroyed by the violence in contemporary German society, and his subsequent disclaimer about the similarity between the fictional News and the Bild-Zeitung implicitly identifies the press as the source of that violence. The press not only collaborates with the police and with business but also serves to express the neo-Fascist views of a repressive coalition dedicated to maintaining, through repressing dissidents, the status quo. That control may be exerted through the misuse and abuse of language will come as no surprise to those familiar with George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” an essay that demonstrates how government may use language to mask reality and discourage critical thought.

By calling attention to Katharina’s “lost honor,” Böll also relates sex to violence and language, and he develops this idea early in the novel. When he first questions Katharina in her apartment, Beizmenne uses language to attack her: “Well, did he f-—-you?” Such language is not intended to elicit information, but to offend, to hurt, to dehumanize. Totges unwittingly duplicates Beizmenne’s linguistic aggression when he asks her, “How about us having a bang for a start?” Katharina is aware of the irony when she pulls out the pistol and thinks, “Bang, if that’s what you want.” Since feminists have shown how...

(The entire section is 411 words.)