Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Fritz Tolm

Fritz Tolm (tohlm), a wealthy newspaper owner in his mid-sixties who has just been elected president of the Association. As president of this organization, which represents the conservative interests of the West German business establishment, Tolm is catapulted into public prominence and is more vulnerable than ever as a symbolic target for the terrorists wishing to strike a blow at the West German system. Tolm, who experienced poverty in his youth, inherited a newspaper from his godfather toward the end of World War II. Although Tolm had a Ph.D. in art history and had no interest in newspapers, his paper, under the direction of its financial manager, Amplanger, consumed competing papers and became an empire. Reluctantly maneuvered into accepting the presidency of the Association because of his positive public image as a cultured and kindly gentleman, Tolm is mentally and physically weary. He lacks true independence and does not even control his own paper. He is surrounded by elaborate police protection and has no privacy. With the support of his wife, Käthe, he repudiates his public position to bury the dead terrorist, Heinrich Beverloh, whom he loved as a son. He and Käthe decide to leave their mansion, Tolmshoven, and to move into an empty vicarage to be accessible to their children.

Käthe Tolm

Käthe Tolm (KAY-teh), Fritz Tolm’s attractive, warmhearted, and generous wife. She, like Fritz, comes from a humble background, and she has little tolerance for self-important or stupid members of the economic elite; she much prefers common people. Her life centers on her family, and she longs to regain privacy and family intimacy.

Rolf Tolm

Rolf Tolm, a son of the Tolms, a brilliant and talented economist whose promising career as a banker was aborted when he was jailed for throwing stones and setting cars on fire during a violent political protest. Still a radical, he has repudiated violence and lives on the grounds of a Catholic parish with his common-law wife, Katharina Schroter, an intelligent and sensitive communist, and their son, Holger II.

Herbert Tolm

Herbert Tolm, the Tolms’ other son. Opposed to violence, he, too, rejected the artificiality and mindless development of West German society. He has refused to go to Tolmshoven, where his family has moved after selling their...

(The entire section is 994 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Safety Net is overpopulated with characters. There are so many of them (more than seventy) that Böll provides a “List of Characters” in the opening of his narrative in order to help the reader. This list is useful, given the tangled and interwoven relationships.

The technique of narration is both subjective and omniscient. Böll advances the narrative by constantly shifting from the consciousness of one character to that of another, enabling the reader to understand the motivations of the central players in this sordid political drama. The central players, Fritz and Kathe and their daughter Sabine Fischer, are explored in depth at the outset, and Böll most frequently invades their consciousnesses. The son Rolf is also very important to the story, since he served time for subversive political activities, and his knowledge gives the family an understanding of the terrorist mentality. There is some doubt as to whether Rolf has been entirely rehabilitated.

On the other, adversarial side of the story, Böll takes the reader most frequently into the mind of Holzpuke, the officer in charge of security, the man who controls the “safety net.” Böll also penetrates the mind of the notorious Bleibl, an apparently ruthless industrialist who is corrupt (as facts taken from his “denazification file” demonstrate) but who is also tortured by his guilty conscience. Bleibl is a reprehensible character, but at least he feels remorse,...

(The entire section is 423 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Crampton, Patricia, trans. Heinrich Böll: On His Death, 1985.

Ghurye, Charlotte W. “Heinrich Böll’s Fursorgliche Belagerung: A Bloodless Novel of Terrorism,” in University of Dayton Review. XVII (Summer, 1985), pp. 77-82.

Ghurye, Charlotte W. “The Theme of Angst in Heinrich Böll’s Fursorgliche Belagerung,” in Research Studies. LII, nos. 3/4 (1983), pp. 156-164.

Kahn, Lothar. “German Prisoners of Fear,” in The New Leader. LXV (March 22, 1982), p. 20.

Reid, J.H. “Back to the Billiards Table?” in Forum for Modern Language Studies. XIX (April, 1983), pp. 126-141.

Sheppard, R.Z. “Eavesdropping uber Alles,” in Time. CXIX (February 8, 1982), p. 74.