Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On one level, “Murke’s Collected Silences” is a satire on the German “culture industry” in the postwar period of the mid-1950’s. The scene is dominated by “cultural priests” such as Bur-Malottke and characterized by rampant hypocrisy and venality. The small army of free-lance contributors who live from broadcast royalties will exploit any material for the sake of a paycheck. Humkoke, for example, must chide Murke for leaving a book on his desk when Wanderburn is likely to turn up, and Wanderburn is always likely to turn up. The reason is that he will immediately turn it into a two-hour feature. The broadcasting house is equally guilty, however, because it willingly accepts the most banal of programs merely to fill up the available broadcast hours. It is no surprise, then, that the young Murke, a blazingly intelligent young man whom the Director regards as an intellectual beast of prey, finds the rare moments of silence to be the station’s most precious product.

On another level, however, Böll also satirizes the authoritarian mentality that he believes the Germans have apparently been unable to overcome in spite of that trait’s dubious role in German history. The Director rules his fiefdom with an iron fist and has the motto “Discipline above all” painted on the wall. He is, however, the very model of obsequiousness when dealing with Bur-Malottke or even the most outrageous suggestions from listeners. Murke’s only real success in his odd rebellion against this system comes in the scene where he briefly has the upper hand over Bur-Malottke in the recording studio. It is, however, a deliciously humorous scene and points to the possibility of a more critical attitude toward authority figures.