Characters Discussed

Helmut Halm

Helmut Halm (hahlm), a teacher at a reputable Gymnasium in Stuttgart, now on vacation at Lake Constance. Forty-six years old, with a middle-age paunch, he is an introverted intellectual bourgeois who cherishes his privacy, detests familiarity, and desires to remain incognito as much as possible. He reads Søren Kierkegaard and is fond of heavy red wines, good food, cigars, and, above all, escape and seclusion from the world in the company of his wife of many years, Sabina. He is troubled by his loss of sexual desire only to the extent that he is not entirely sure whether his wife has also reached that stage in her life. In the presence of Helene Buch, he experiences a mild erotic reawakening, but, tired by life, alienated and even repulsed by his own body, and fully resigned to his own inertia, he merely registers these stirrings vaguely and without any active interest in Helene. More an observer of life than a participant in it, he is thoroughly annoyed by Klaus Buch’s intrusion into his placid vacation and by the threat that his former schoolmate poses to his way of being and his tranquillity. Most of all, Helmut would like to flee but is pressured by the others into submitting to the heartiness and joviality of a renewed, if imposed, friendship. All the while pretending—something that he has not only learned to do well throughout his life but also thoroughly enjoys—he plays along. Finally, during an outing on the stormy lake, out of either an instinct for self-preservation or murderous fury—he himself does not know which—he causes Klaus to fall overboard and disappear in the waves.

Klaus Buch

Klaus Buch (klows bewkh), a freelance journalist specializing in ecological topics. Although also forty-six years old, he is slender,...

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The Characters

Since Runaway Horse is actually a novella, hardly more than a hundred pages, there is little space for character description and development. Only Helmut and Klaus receive full treatment. The introspective Helmut is given to hiding his real persona, uncertain of his calling as a teacher and troubled by memories, most of which he would willingly forget (and often does). He prefers the confines of his rented room to the world outside. (He actually enjoys its barred windows and misses them when he returns home.) Depicted as a man of reason, he is nevertheless patently neurotic and even irrational in his unease at Klaus’s probing into their boyhood past. His uncertainties extend to his own self-image. He is gradually, if unwillingly, growing apart from his wife, unable to communicate sexually and torn by a sense of inadequacy. Not until the story’s end does he succeed in achieving some satisfaction from his life and in reestablishing a sexual bond with his wife.

Klaus at first seems to be a successful and well-adjusted writer of health and environmental books, lean and tanned of body, admired by women, and in appearance twenty years younger than his boyhood friend. Yet he is far from this ideal. His wife accuses him of morbid jealousy, of being so insecure as to believe that the equally insecure Helmut can effect his salvation. If Helmut is the man of reason, then Klaus is the man of instinct, the runaway horse of the book’s title and, as the...

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Clark, Jonathan Philip. “A Subjective Confrontation with the German Past in Martin Walser’s Ein fliehendes Pferd,” in Martin Walser: International Perspectives, 1987. Edited by Jurgen E. Schlunk and Armand E. Singer.

Pickar, Gertrud B. “Narrative Perspective in the Novels of Martin Walser,” in The German Quarterly. XLIV (1971), pp. 48-57.

Sinka, Margit M. “The Flight Motif in Martin Walser’s Ein fliehandes Pferd,” in Monatshefte. LXXIV (Spring, 1982), pp. 47-58.

Thomas, Noel L. “Martin Walser Rides Again: Ein fliehendes Pferd,” in Modern Languages. LX (1979), pp. 168-171.

Waine, Anthony Edward. Martin Walser, 1980.