Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Böll’s satire is laced with critical barbs, the narrative tone is more one of amused resignation than caustic invective. The scene in the recording studio with Bur-Malottke notwithstanding, Murke is a man who has for the most part internalized his revolt and sublimated it in such idiosyncratic forms as his daily elevator ride or his collection of silences. In many ways he is therefore a poor model of a more positive social type. Böll uses the technique of ironic understatement to underscore the absurdity of the world he describes and leaves it to the reader to imagine alternatives.

One alternative to the authoritarian, hypocritical world of the radio station is, however, symbolically suggested in the contrast between the broadcast house itself and the basement coffee shop. This is the region to which Murke and others retreat for a momentary respite from the world “above.” It is a sanctuary from the hierarchical order, a place where even a hypocrite such as Wanderburn can utter an honest opinion about the nature of the institution. The contrast between the two spheres is symbolized in the figure of the good-hearted, simple waitress, Wulla. Her real name is Wilfriede-Ulla, but for the sake of simplicity she has conflated it into the abbreviated form, Wulla. Thus, she provides the perfect counterpoint, in name as well as in personality, to the inflated, self-important Bur-Malottke.