Martin Walser Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Martin Walser’s earliest literary efforts resulted in several radio plays, written while he was employed by the South German Radio Network. His real breakthrough as a writer of serious fiction came with the publication of his first book of short stories, Ein Flugzeug über dem Haus und andere Geschichten (1955; an airplane over the house and other stories), and his first novel, Ehen in Philippsburg (1957; The Gadarene Club, 1960; also known as Marriage in Philippsburg). Walser’s place as one of the most important, most controversial, and most talented West German prose writers was clearly established through his trilogy of novels, Halbzeit (1960; half-time), Das Einhorn (1966; The Unicorn, 1971), and Der Sturz (1973; the crash). The protagonist of all three works, Anselm Kristlein, is the prototypical main character for virtually all of Walser’s writing.

Walser’s other notable fiction works include Jenseits der Liebe (1976; Beyond All Love, 1982), Ein fliehendes Pferd (1978; Runaway Horse, 1980), Seelenarbeit (1979; The Inner Man, 1984), Das Schwanenhaus (1980; The Swan Villa, 1982), Brandung (1985; Breakers, 1987), Dorle und Wolf (1987; No Man’s Land, 1989), Die Verteidigung der Kindheit (1991), Ohne Einander (1993), Ein springender Brunnen...

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One of the most important authors of post-World War II German literature, Martin Walser has distinguished himself with an extensive output of plays, novels, short stories, and essays. Like others in his generation of (West) German authors, such as Günter Grass and Siegfried Lenz, Walser was born at the end of the 1920’s, grew up in Germany during the Third Reich, and then, once he began writing in the 1950’s, directed his literary efforts at forcing his fellow Germans to confront rather than suppress their history and to recognize that their recent, terrible past is a part of their present, whether they are willing to admit it, and it cannot and must not be conveniently, uncritically, and irresponsibly swept under the rug. In all Walser’s works, he has retained that critical sensibility toward his society, analyzing in particular the power structures in both private and public, historical and contemporary realms, and exposing how those structures oppress individuals as well as keep genuine social progress from occurring. He grants a certain amount of sympathy and understanding to his protagonists, virtually all of whom come from the middle and lower-middle classes, yet they are anything but heroic and, in fact, usually end up as failures—in their occupations, in their private and political lives, and in their attempts to find lasting meaning or realize their aspirations. Walser’s dramas and prose works alike, despite all their variety, consistently display these basic thrusts.

Although the critical and popular acclaim for Walser’s literary and dramatic creations has not been unanimous, he has attracted considerable scholarly attention and has been awarded numerous prestigious literary prizes, including the Prize of the Gruppe 47 (1955), the Hermann Hesse Prize (1962), the Gerhart Hauptmann Prize (1962), the Georg Büchner Prize (1982), and the Peace Prize of the German Publishing Industry (1998).


Fetz, Gerald A. “Martin Walser, Germany, and the ‘German Question.’” In Leseerfahrungen mit Martin Walser, edited by Heike Doane and Gertrud Bauer Pickar. Munich: Fink, 1995. An examination of Walser and his attitude toward Germany.

Fetz, Gerald A. “Martin Walser’s Sauspiel and the Contemporary German History Play.” Comparative Drama 12, no. 3 (1978): 249-265. A look at Walser’s Das Sauspiel and other German history plays.

Kovach, Thomas A. The Burden of the Past: Martin Walser on Modern Germany Identity—Texts, Contexts, Commentary. Elizabethtown, N.Y.: Camden House, 2008. Here Kovach translates several of Walser’s speeches and puts into perspective the public’s reaction to them. He takes a look at the support and opposition that arose from them and discusses the ways in which Germany tries to move past the Holocaust while still remembering their country’s history. Includes interesting commentaries, easy to read translations, and a useful bibliography.

Oswald, Franz. The Political Psychology of the White-Collar Worker in Martin Walser’s Novels. New York: P. Lang, 1998. Discusses the differing critical and reader receptions of Walser’s fiction between 1957 and 1978 in West Germany, East Germany, and the United States.

Pilipp, Frank. The Novels of Martin Walser: A Critical Introduction. New York: Camden House, 1991. A comprehensive study of Walser’s output in all genres between 1976 and 1988.

Pilipp, Frank, ed. New Critical Perspectives on Martin Walser. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994. An examination of contemporary critiques of Walser’s works. Bibliography and index.

Schlunk, Jürgen E., and Armand E. Singer, eds. Martin Walser: International Perspectives. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. A collection of papers presented at the International Martin Walser Symposium at the West Virginia University in April, 1985. Bibliographies.

Taberner, Stuart. Distorted Reflections: The Public and Private Uses of the Author. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998. A study of the way in which political engagement serves as a subtext in the novels of Uwe Johnson, Günter Grass, and Walser.

Waine, Anthony Edward. Martin Walser: The Development as Dramatist, 1950-1970. Bonn: Bouvier, 1978. Waine traces Walser’s development as a playwright until 1970. Bibliography and index.