Critical Context

Because the novel functions brilliantly both as a condemnation of a false political system and as a novel of education, it has much in common with several germinal twentieth century novels, including Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926), with its emphasis upon disillusioned youth and lost faith; James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), with its protagonist who rejects both his native Ireland and Catholicism; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), in which Jay Gatsby learns too late about the shallowness and destructiveness of materialism; and Gunter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961), in which a midget learns at firsthand the horrors of nationalism run amok. Though the novel gives the reader a picture of cultural disintegration from the perspective of a victim of man’s cruelty, its essentially gloomy assessment of life in the twentieth century is at odds with its praise of the courage, audacity, inventiveness, and playfulness of man under siege. In this, the author joins with a number of modern writers, including Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, Heinrich Boll, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Samuel Beckett. What a Beautiful Sunday! is a unique and important addition to Continental fiction dealing with World War II and its aftermath.