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Hans Fallada: Humanist and Social Critic. Review

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SCHUELER, H. J., Hans Fallada: Humanist and Social Critic. The Hague and Paris: Mouton (1970). 123 pp. $5.30


Professor Schueler makes an earnest attempt to rescue Hans Fallada from oblivion and to prove him deserving of serious literary study. Starting with the premise that Fallada treats timeless and universal problems of man's social life, he combs the novels and autobiography for telling passages on four main themes. He devotes a chapter to each of the following: the plight of the Kleinbürger, marriage and the role of woman, return to the soil, and the isolation of the individual. He calls his procedure "Werkeschreibung" (p. 8).

It becomes clear that Fallada deplores “the lack of a sense of solidarity and social identity amongst the members of the white-collar class” (p. 23), loneliness, the “servitude of money” (p. 33), envy, and materialism; and that the novels affirm a “sense of social communion” (p. 33), the family, harmonious marriages, loyalty, and nature.

Each chapter opens with a statement of the issue and some generalizations. The investigation then begins with pertinent material from the autobiographical Heute bei uns zu Haus. Professor Schueler next distills a conceptual statement of humanistic social criticism from the novels, starting with those that concentrate on the dark side and concluding with one that suggests the ultimate “transcendence of the individual over himself and the community” (p. 106). He is at great pains to demonstrate Fallada's positive thinking.

Professor Schueler has intentionally confined his attention to the ideas suggested in his title, but I believe that Fallada's cause is not well served by transforming him into a compassionate and inspiring purveyor of consolation and guides to the better life. The book's last sentence makes the point that his skill in human portraiture constitutes his lasting achievement.

I would go further and argue that Fallada's greatest strength – and weakness – derives from the fact that he is uncritical. His books remind one of neo-realistic movies. They have no aesthetic distance and no clear world view. Though they do not end with disaster, the best they can offer is resigned acceptance of human brutality, poverty, malice, and stupidity. Fallada’s style has the tyrannically oppressive and obsessive quality of the cinematic close-up that shows in magnified detail a world of petty extortionists, corrupt politicians, and sadists. One remembers best the grimy sheets, stinking toilets, brain damage, the battering of innocents, and the needless suffering.

Dartmouth College



Source: The German Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Mar., 1971), pp. 247-248

Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of GermanStable



Editor's Presentation

  Hans Fallada (Rudolf Ditzen, 1893-1947) is one of the most neglected modern German authors. Though Jürgen Manthey has written an excellent biography of Fallada (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1963), very little has yet been done in the way of a critical investigation of Fallada’s varied and voluminous literary output. This book is an attempt to narrow the gap created by the continuing lack of critical literature on Hans Fallada.

  The author has attempted to view Hans Fallada in a new light by demonstrating that he was not, as is commonly maintained, a political or even a “social” writer in the generally accepted sense of those terms. This study tries to show that Fallada’s main concern was not so much with ephemeral political issues and temporary social conditions but, rather, with certain fundamental and timeless human problems and conflicts and with the state of mind engendered in the victims of whatever conditions prevails at a certain time in society.

  The first chapter (“The Plight of the Kleinbürger”) discusses Fallada as the author of the “little man” and considers his unique interpretation of the predicament of the German Kleinbürger during the period between the two World Wars. The second chapter (“Marriage and the Role of Woman”) elaborates further on the theme of the “little man”; it investigates Fallada’s treatment if the theme of marriage and the role of Women, both in relation to the social life of the Kleinbürger and in its wider and more general social relevance. The third and fourth chapters deal with Hans Fallada’s interpretation of the problems of modern man’s adjustment to society in an age which is both highly industrialized and urbanized (Chapter III: “The Return to the Soil”) and essentially atomistic (Chapter IV: “The Isolation of the Individual”). The fourth chapter also attempts to shed some light on Fallada’s views on man’s ultimate metaphysical gropings for basic spiritual values beyond the artificial confines of the social world. In the last chapter (“Hans Fallada’s Legacy”) an attempt is made to form an estimate of Fallada’s achievements and of his position in German literature of the twentieth century.


About the author. Born in Mbeya, East Africa. Educated n East Africa (primary), West Germany (secondary), and Canada (university). Studied at the University of Toronto (B.A. 1959, M.A. 1961, PhD. 1965).

Taught: University of Toronto (1963/64), University of Western Ontario (1964/66), University of Guelph (1966/68). Now with the Department of Foreign Literatures, York University, Toronto, Canada.

Publication: The German Verse Epic in the 19th and 20th Centuries.


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