Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Heinrich Böll’s agenda in The Safety Net may be seen as an extended meditation on the same issue raised by his earlier, shorter novel Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1974; The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1975), which intended to show, per its subtitle, “how violence can develop and where it can lead.” The villain of that novel is a yellow journalist, Werner Totges, who represents a sensationalist newspaper that resembles Axel Springer’s Bild-Zeitung. The fear of terrorism and the question of personal privacy are themes that The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum and The Safety Net share.

In The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, Böll presents an ordinary citizen, not at all political, being victimized by the press and by the police state. In The Safety Net, he suggests that even the rich and powerful may be victimized by the very mechanisms that are established to provide for their security. Fritz Tolm is a newspaper magnate, but his private life is no more secure than that of Böll’s earlier heroine, Katharina Blum.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum was a polemical attack that Böll launched after his own privacy had been invaded when he wrote an article for Der Spiegel criticizing the hysterical coverage of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang in West Germany. Böll had taken the unpopular position that the terrorist Ulrike Meinhof should be given...

(The entire section is 520 words.)