Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Gottlieb Zürn is scarcely a traditional hero, either in the ordeals that he suffers or in his personal stature. With consummate skill, Walser brings the reader into this modest life, communicating the innermost thoughts and fears so that the reader shares intimately in Gottlieb’s mundane existence. From the first sentence of the novel, the reader experiences daily events simultaneously with the main character—as seen through Gottlieb’s eyes and reflected in his mind—and learns the significance of each event for him. With the exception of sporadically scattered dialogue, the bulk of the novel consists of Gottlieb’s unspoken thoughts and reactions in the form of interior monologues. Through this narrative perspective, the reader develops an understanding of the hero’s existence, suffers with him through various trials and tribulations, and ultimately sympathizes with his fate, no matter how trivial. Walser treats his main character with sympathy and good humor so that Gottlieb’s embarrassments evoke empathy rather than scorn.

Gottlieb represents that great number of outwardly successful businessmen in industrial societies. He is forced to compete—not for survival, but for much higher stakes: for social acceptance and thus prestige. Constantly measuring himself against superior competitors, Gottlieb is basically insecure,secretly preferring to quit in order to avoid the inevitable humiliation when he is exposed for exactly who and what he...

(The entire section is 554 words.)