Adam, Ne Oldu Sana?
Little Man__What Now?
|Editörün Notu: 1929 da patlak veren ve Hitler'in baþa geçmesinin en büyük nedenlerinden biri olan büyük ekonomik bunalým sýrasýnda Almanya'da iþsiz sayýsý 6 milyona çýkar, üretim yüzde 40 azalýr, maaþlar yarý yarýya iner. Kiralar yüksek, iþ bulmak ýse neredeyse imkânsýzdýr. Bu acýmasýz ortamda ayakta kalmaya çalýþan beyaz yakalý "küçük" memur ve cesur karýsý, ahlâki duruþlarýndan ödün vermeden, yaþam mücadelesi verirler.|
In its first issue of 1932 the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung launched the new year with two pieces of vivid photoreportage, one entitled‘Unemployed between 14 and 21’, the other ‘Shelter for the Night’.The titles, like the accompanying photographs, speak for themselves.
so often focused in Berlin’s illustrated weeklies on the glitzy aspects
of city-life, was exploring the darker recesses, the wretchedness of
lives lived—to adapt lines from the film of Brecht’s
visibly in the light but invisibly in the dark. Later in 1932 the same
weekly produced a documentation in pictures of ‘Berlin Cave-dwellers’,
the Berlin poor living in unspeakably primitive huts and hovels. Three
camera-essays from the same source in the same year—three occasions for
despair and perhaps anger, three outrages recorded. Yet the overall
impression is of impotence and inaction: grounds for anger, it seems,
are plentiful; solutions are harder to come by.
young are on the dole,
A different strain indeed—utopian perhaps, propagandistic for sure, but at least far removed from impotence and inaction.By 1932, the year in which all these photographic records of deprivation appeared, the Great Slump, set in train by the Wall Street Crash of 24 October 1929, was in its third year. A newspaper graph published in mid-1932 charted the course of the slump in Germany from late 1929 to the present: unemployment had risen from 1.4 million to 6 million, wages had decreased by fifty percent, production by forty per cent. Red Pepper, a Communist satirical journal, found a pictorial equivalent for the state of the Weimar Republic (it had in the event less than a year of life left in it):a policeman guards a shop whose fascia reads ‘German Republic Ltd’ and whose window is empty save for stickers reading ‘Stocktaking Sale, cheaper than ever’, ‘Everything to clear!’ and labels lying around—‘Pensions’, ‘Wages and Salaries’, ‘Social Welfare’.At a time when the prospect, like that shop-window, looked bleak, when poverty, conflict and social disorder were endemic,it is hardly surprising that there were conflicting recipes spanning the entire political spectrum. They ranged from National Socialists,destined, of course, to assume power, who, if the occasion demanded it—and the crisis of 1932 did—could put an extra shine on the Socialist part of their name (‘National Socialism is socialism only for form’s sake’ was Brecht’s later verdict) to the Communists, to whom solidarity with the workers and with those deprivedof work came perhaps more easily—in 1932 eighty-five percent of party members in Germany were unemployed. The commonthread, linking the photoreportage and the Weinert poem, the Communist cartoon depicting the empty Republic shop and Nazi posters offering work and bread, was unemployment.
In 1932 forty-two per cent of German workers were unemployed (corresponding figures for Britain are twenty-two per cent, for Denmark thirty-two per cent). On 1 June 1932 Chancellor Brüning, who for two years had responded to a worsening situation with ineffectual emergency-measures, was replaced by von Papen who promptly cut unemployment-support. On 10 June 1932 Little Man—WhatNow? appeared.
It is worth emphasizing the social upheavals, the explosive mixture of despair and revolutionary zeal, that surrounded Falladaas he wrote and published his novel—he had begun work inOctober 1931—not because he aims at any kind of total picture.The time-span of his narrative is close to that of the Slump itself, but the principal actors, whether politicians or industrialists,are absent. Fallada—leaving his readers, as it were, to fill in theall-too-familiar background—has chosen characters whose perspectiveis narrow, even blinkered, people for whom the major political issues, if they arise at all (and Johannes Pinneberg, his central character, encounters Nazis and anti-Nazis), are incidental, reduced to virtual invisibility in the day-to-day struggle to stay above the bread-line. ‘The terror of those on the margin of employment... the agony of those who are never secure’—this was Fallada’s theme in the eyes of The Spectator, reviewing the first English translation which appeared less than twelve months after the German edition.
Timing was obviously crucial: in the right hands at the right time the angle of the ‘Little Man’ can, however indirectly, prove revelatory. Charlie Chaplin, after all, expressed the state of an entire age—his immensely popular City Lights (1931) was showing in Berlin in 1932—and not just the state of tramps. Literary history is indeed rich in examples of bestsellers whose success suggests that the voice of the half-hidden victims can ring more eloquently and reach further than the voice of the victimisers. Hašek’s Good Soldier Schweyk and Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front offer a bottom-up view of war, Anne Frank, whose diary opened millionsof eyes to the Holocaust, had, to put it mildly, a restricted view of the world. Fallada’s Little Man is a distant relative, certainly his enduring success has been on a comparable scale: translated into over twenty languages, twice filmed—once in Germany, once inthe USA—within two years of its appearance, by which time halfa million copies had been sold world-wide—‘The Book of the Year is now the Film of the Year’, a film poster for the American version proclaimed, ‘Learn about Life from Little Man and his Wife’—thus the publicity from Universal Pictures.
Enduring success is one thing, immediate impact is something different, and clearly the immediate impact of Fallada’s novel was undeniable. Film rights were sold within a month, indeed Fallada was working on a film version in the days immediately up to publication. At his deathfour unpublished film-outlines were found, entitled Keep your Head High!, of which the longest, thirty-one handwritten pages,was written between 6 and 10 June 1932. The fact that some fifty provincial German newspapers serialized the novel points to a readership that was diffuse and by nature immeasurable and to a resonance that resists final analysis.
‘Never,’ said the redoubtable critic Herbert Jhering, ‘has the success of a book been easier to explain.’ The statistics record the scale of that success; those who fuelled the success, the reviewers, help to explain it. To many of its most enthusiastic reviewers the novel’s strength lay in its close-up characterization. But these were not characters in a vacuum: timing—that critical year1932—gave them a context and, with that context, urgent topicality.Thus even the Communists, to whom Pinneberg’s passivity, his opting-out of revolutionary engagement, was anathema, could still commend his relevance.
One of their number, Jürgen Kuczynski, recalled later, ‘we found the novel completely unpolitical and yet full of a political actuality’. The leading literary journal, The Literary World, reviewed the novel in July 1932, and the reviewis worth quoting at length because it underlines the interaction between the book and its circumstances, between small lives in close-up and large issues at a distance: When a few decades ago a Russian newspaper serialized Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, complete strangers talked in the street and in trains, exchanging opinions about the characters in the novel and their fate. A man of exceptional gifts was expressing what all felt. When Fallada’s novel Little Man—What Now? appeared in the Vossische Zeitung, author and publisher were bombarded with letters seeking to express the passionate involvement of readers in the fate of the people in the novel. One man was expressing what all were suffering. One man was giving shape to what all could sense. That is how the miracle occurred that we no longer believed possible: a fragmented society, a mountain of conflicting interests, a nation which appeared to share nothing save poverty and the hatred of each against each that poverty gives rise to, this ill-treated people acquired in Fallada’s novel a book for the people.
It concerns everyone... Thanks to Fallada’s keen sense of reality, his powers of observation, his gift of catching the flavour of ordinary speech and his boldness in conveying unvarnished what he has heard, he has created a book for our time and about our time ... Any foreigner seeking to form a picture of present-day Germany will find it in this story of the little white-collar worker and his wife much more than in newspapers or party meetings or manifestos.
The suggestion that authenticity was one of the virtues ofLittle Man—What Now? had already been made by Ernst Rowohlt, Fallada’s publisher, in their publicity material: ‘The marital bliss,the joy of fatherhood, happiness at work and the hunger for work,the despair and the love of Johannes Pinneberg, a little white-collarworker, one of millions. The novel is no novel, it is the life of all of us here and now.’ Critics bore out what Rowo hlt were claiming in advance: here was the quintessential ‘novel of pauvreté’, as one reviewer put it; Fallada was ‘an unusual expert in the use of detail’; for Hermann Hesse, whose own fictional world was far removed from that of Fallada, he deserved high praise for ‘having reported so realistically, so truthfully, with such closeness to life’.Fallada himself once admitted that he could depict only what he saw, not what might happen, and shortly before his death he stressed the importance of a certain kind of authenticity. He had, he claimed, sampled and studied life before writing books. What sounds like a dispassionate reiteration of old truths about life and experience being the best teachers conceals the high price that Fallada paid for the sampling and the study.
By the time that LittleMan—What Now? was published he had spent nineteen months in a mental hospital and a total of over two years in prison. By the end of his life he had been variously institutionalized for some seven and a half years. The anguish began early: school was a torment, he was isolated, was bullied by those around him and a prey to constant, serious illness. To keep away from school he inflicted illness on himself by drinking quantities of vinegar, which produced a deathly pallor. In October 1911 at the age of eighteen he fought a duel with a fellow-pupil, killed him, failed to kill himself (this was not his first suicide attempt) and was charged with murder. From January 1912 until October 1913 he was confined in an institution.Soon after his release he became a morphine addict. During the next ten years he was repeatedly a patient at treatment-centres for drug-addiction but proved uncooperative. In 1924 and again between 1926 and 1928 he had two spells in prison, having beentwice convicted of embezzlement, crimes committed in order tofinance his addiction.
Contradicting the self-destructive urges that the young Fallada manifested—and yet perhaps complementing them—were his precocious literary ambitions. While still a schoolboy he had,according to one of his teachers, no academic goals, learned little, but was seized with the desire to achieve fame as a writer. His first attempt to fulfil that ambition yielded Young Goedeschal: A Novel of Puberty, completed in 1918 and published in 1920. It is not easy to discern the author of Little Man—What Now? in the hectic hyperbole of this immature piece, indeed Fallada subsequently disowned both this and his second novel, Anton and Gerda, published in 1923, requesting that available copies be pulped.
In Goedeschal disorder is not in society but in the blood, in the turmoil of adolescence, in a hothouse sensibility that soon palls. Of Johannes Pinneberg, the later Little Man, who is more sober than soul-searching, there is no sign, yet there may be much of Fallada himself in the febrile, volatile central character:
"The icy wind sweeping down the street bit into his fevered face. Kai’s hand shot up, passed smoothingly across his face, and it was as if cracks had opened in his cheeks, a deep, jagged cleft seemed to gape open on his forehead and inside it his blood was singing, pressing out of every vein, white, foaming, scornful of the cold, and every heart-beat drove it to ever wilder turbulence. It sang, it yelled, it stormed in him. "
Fallada’s case was too tragic and too complex to permit slick summary diagnosis, nevertheless it might be suggested that Young Goedeschal, for all its weaknesses, explores the youthful sources of the disabling extremism that was to plague Fallada himself. However, the life that Fallada claimed to have sampled and studied had its less painful aspects, embracing more than nervous breakdowns, drug-addiction and crime. Looking back in 1946 inan essay ‘How I became a writer’, which was found after his death, Fallada points to a positive consequence of what had at first been seen by his father and others as a course of physical and psychological rehabilitation—work and training on farms and estates in Mecklenburg, Silesia and West Prussia through the first half of the 1920s:
I was with people almost all the time, I stood behind endless rows of women talking away while they chopped turnips and dug potatoes, and I heard the women and girls talking away. It went on from dawn till dusk ... I could not avoid it, I had to listen and I learned how they talk and what they talk about, what their worries are and what problems they have. And as I was only a very minor official and not riding around on horseback—I just had a bike now and then to save time—they had no inhibitions about talking to me and I learned to talk to everybody.
From the adolescent’s pounding blood to the trainee-inspector on his bike is a long road and it is the latter that ultimately, after a long, unproductive interval, bore fruit. It is a clear case of experience, gained first on those farming-estates and then in a newspaper-office, providing the material for documentary fiction.
In 1929 Fallada, by now a reporter on a local newspaper in Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein, the town in which, the previous year, he had completed two years in prison, experienced at close hand the increasingly violent confrontation between the over-taxed, under-resourced small-farmers of Schleswig-Holstein and the authorities. By 1930 he had moved to Berlin, working part-time for his old publisher Ernst Rowohlt, and began to write a novel around those experiences, Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben (a title which has been ingeniously translated as Farmers, Functionaries and Fireworks).
The novel, Fallada’s third, was published in 1931, having already reached a large public and gained pre-publication publicity via serialization in a leading Cologne journal. The novel launched—or re-launched—Fallada as a writer. It was commended not least for its authoritative documentary perspective on events through characters who were by no means locked in parochialism—one leading critic, Kurt Tucholsky, saw the work indeed as a ‘political manual of Fauna Germanica’. But the novel is also rooted at many levels in Fallada’s private circumstances.
The events—Fallada shifts the stage from Schleswig-Holstein to Pomerania—are witnessed through a local newspaper-office and they involve, among others, a local journalist Max Tredup. Tredup is not the central figure but he is important as the first in a line of ‘little men’ which, most obviously, includes Tredup’s immediate successor in Fallada’s fictional world, Johannes Pinneberg. Tredup is a victim, a wretched, despised figure, seeking—and failing—to improve his shaky financial state, to protect his family, to survive in an uneasy world. His fate is ultimately more tragic than Pinneberg’s— he is killed by mistake—but the affinity, both to Pinneberg and to Fallada’s own circumstances, is striking.
In 1929 those circumstances had changed. In June of that year Fallada married Anna Issel, daughter of a working-class family. She was a sane, sound, practically-minded twenty-eight-year-old, employed in a milliner’ shop and she is generally held to have had a stabilizing influence on Fallada and to have been a model for the equally level-headed Lammchen in Little Man—What Now? In March 1930 a son was born. Fallada later recollected the straitened circumstances in which the trio had to live:
‘Those were times of dreadful anxiety! Instead of making progress we were up to our ears—up to our hair—in debt! We had nothing, except worries and sleepless nights!’ But Fallada was no longer alone, no longer—or not yet again—addicted to drink or drugs. If anything, writing itself had become a source of intoxication, a means of escape: It was often like an intoxication, but one above all the forms of intoxication that material substances can deliver.
"Even the worst hours, when I was in utter despair about how to continue the novel, were far better than my most beautiful free hours. No, that’s what it was, I had taken a poison that I could not shake out of my mind or my body, I was thirsty for it, I wanted to drink more of it, to drink it always, every day for the rest of my life."
And Little Man—What Now? was written in sixteen weeks. Fallada’s writing, meeting as it clearly did a personal need, offered a kind of therapy. What sounds from his own account like an escape from reality might seem to inhibit every impulse towards gritty realism, but for Fallada, it might be said, even the humdrum, the ins-and-outs of lives lived at the margin of society, had an intoxicating fascination. Not that the escapism is always under control, there are moments in Little Man—What Now? when escapes are escapes into idylls, however imperilled and short-lived they might be. Thus Romantic colours suffuse the end of the novel:
"And suddenly the cold had gone, an immeasurable gentle green wave lifted her up and him with her. They glided up together; the stars glittered very near; she whispered: ‘But you can look at me! Always, always! You’re with me, we’re together...’
"The wave rose and rose. It was the beach at night between Lensahn and Wiek, the one other time when the stars had been so near. It was the old joy, it was the old love. Higher and higher, from the tarnished earth to the stars."
"And then they both went into the house where the Shrimp was sleeping."
At such a point the imaginative freedom of fiction seems to be colliding with the harsher exigencies of the lives that Fallada has been recording. Indeed he seems, when he came to recollect the year between Farmers, Functionaries and Fireworks and Little Man—What Now? to have overlaid fact with fiction. He did not, as he later alleged, lose his job in 1931, he resigned in 1932. Times were indeed hard, resources very limited, but by the winter of 1931, when he began work on Little Man—What Now?, his circumstances in his little house in a Berlin suburb, bought with the proceeds of Farmers, Functionaries and Fireworks, were not comparable with the desperate poverty of Pinneberg. When Fallada later describes his mode of life he comes close to indulgent romanticizing nostalgia:
"Every morning, while Suse did the housework, I went out, pushing my son in his pram ... I pushed him through Altenhagen, I pushed him through Neuenhagen, I pushed him through Bollensdorf... Everywhere we appeared, the pram and me, we were part of the landscape. In a greengrocers Suse heard that we had a name—I was just called ‘the poor out-of-work man with his baby."
Intoxication, romanticizing and personal therapy aside, Fallada clearly had acquired and had put to use in Farmers, Functionaries and Fireworks and in Little Man—What Now? detailed knowledge of lives that he had at most only half shared and an ability to capture the essence of those lives, the temporary pleasures and the enduring ordeals. In fulfilling that life-long and exclusive ambition to be a writer Fallada was not, in other words, rejecting the skills in listening and in observation that had been valuably practised first on the women chopping turnips and then, more recently,on events recorded in the Neumünster paper. But neither acquired skills nor the fruitful conjunction of opportunity, experience and the 1932 crisis can quite account for the success of Little Man—What Now? Observation and close-up realism were among the virtues singled out by reviewers whom we have quoted, reviewers who also stressed the novel’s social relevance, the general significance, the symptomatic character, of the seemingly insignificant lives led by its central figures. But two other factors, the one bearing on Fallada’s manner, the other on his subject-matter, help to explain the impact of the novel and, in so doing, link it with contemporary trends.
First, the manner. Fallada’s much-praised authenticity is inseparable from a major cultural shift in Germany in the late 1920s. No change during these admittedly changeable years was quite so far-reaching as that towards what came to be called ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’, a term variously rendered as neo-realism, new objectivity, new sobriety. The term had gained currency in 1925 when G. F. Hartlaub, a gallery-director, opened an exhibition in Mannheim under that title. In that same year Expressionism, the polar opposite of realism, was pronounced dead in a famous essay by the art-critic Franz Roh. Cinema and photography were soon seeking to exploit the realistic rather than the visionary, the transcendent potential of the camera. Painting too exemplifies the move towards what the art-historian Wieland Schmied has called ‘a new attentiveness to the world of objects’. In literature the change was equally marked through the cultivation of coolness of gesture, of undemonstrative language, in the foregrounding of fact and authenticity, in the cult of reportage.
In 1926 the journal The Literary World conducted an inquiry among leading writers on the question ‘whether literature, narrative prose in particular, is being decisively influenced by Neue Sachlichkeit and reportage’. That the question was being asked at all is significant. Opinions might vary, but there was no denying the fact that Neue Sachlichkeit, however construed, was an influence to be reckoned with. As the Austrian novelist and feuilletonist Joseph Roth put it: ‘Nowadays only what is recognizably documentary is recognized at all.’ There is a hint of ruefulness in Roth’s observation and, indeed, this was no cut-and-dried affair.
Writers, including contributors to the debate initiated by The Literary World, had misgivings about the extent and the nature of the interaction between the differing modes of narrative fiction on the one hand, reportage on the other. The risk could be ‘Factpoets’, as they were disparagingly called. The world of facts, the evidence of the senses, needed to be mediated creatively in order to be grasped, otherwise the facts defeat the understanding—‘700 Intellectuals Revering An Oil-tank’, thus the title of a poem by Brecht, caricaturing what he felt to be the uncomprehending stance of the out-and-out realists. Plain documentation, Brecht suggested elsewhere, is not enough—a photograph of the Kruppworks or AEG tells us nothing about the reality.
Fallada was no theorist, nor was he at the heart of any of the numerous debates about the possible limits of realism. Yet it is difficult to read Little Man—What Now? without sensing that issues currently under discussion were finding practical expression in his attempt to achieve a balance between the claims of fiction, of imaginative shaping, on the one hand, and the claims of documentary realism on the other. In the case of Little Man—What Now? the link between Fallada and that discussion is in fact neither coincidental nor tenuous. He read with keen interest the study of Siegfried Kracauer on White-collar Workers (Die Angestellten) which appeared to considerable acclaim in 1930. Kracauer, in hundreds of feuilleton essays a wide-ranging and incisive analyst of Weimar culture, wrote his study in an attempt to reconcile the need for documentation and the need for a creative shaping of the evidence. In an introductory chapter of White-collar Workers he recognizes the pervasive influence of Neue Sachlichkeit:Writers hardly acknowledge any loftier ambition than to report—reproducing what you observe has top priority.
There is a hunger for immediacy which is without doubt a consequence of being undernourished through a diet of German idealism. In words that echo Brecht’s comment on photography, Kracauer expresses thoughts that Fallada might well have found congenial: A hundred reports from a factory cannot be added up to make the reality of the factory—they remain for ever a hundred factory-views. Reality is a construction. Of course life must be observed, so that reality can emerge.
But reality is in no way contained in the more or less fortuitous sequence of observations that make up reportage, rather it resides exclusively in the mosaic which gathers together discrete observations by grasping their real meaning. Reportage photographs life, a mosaic of this kind produces a picture of it.
Kracauer was one of many critics who around 1930 argued that reportage—‘Sachlichkeit’—was essential but inadequate and that literature required more. And Fallada was not the first to produce a bestseller that was praised for both its recording power and its imaginative scope. In 1929 Alfred Döblin had produced the classic Berlin novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz, embracing both small fictional lives and the monster-city. Erich Kästner, whose worldwide best-seller Emil and the Detectives (1930) placed a bunch of children in a carefully documented Berlin world, created in Fabian (1931) a central character who registers with vivid irony the particularities of Berlin-life but is tragically unable to withstand its pressures.
The affinity between Fallada’s novel and Kracauer’s study is, however, exceptionally close—and here we move from the question of literary manner to that of subject-matter—because both are concerned with the world of the white-collar workers (Kracauer’s term, the ‘Angestellten’, occurs throughout Fallada’s novel). To explore that world was to Kracauer to venture into the unknown.
Whether Fallada had a similar sense of pioneering is a question that must remain unanswered, although his reviewers had no doubt that he was focusing on a world that most writers ignored.
To Kracauer the white-collar worker—twenty per cent of all workers and numbering three and a half million—was a vast underclass, undefined hitherto and, in contrast to the proletariat, overlooked:
"Hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers crowd the streets of Berlin daily and yet their life is more of a mystery than that of the primitive tribes whose customs they marvel at in the cinema."
Kracauer’s sense of exploration and discovery certainly fired his own enquiry and it may well help to explain the excitement that greeted Fallada’s novel. Kracauer’s own ‘little expedition’ is, he claims, ‘perhaps more adventurous than a film-trip to Africa.
For by seeking out the white-collar worker it leads us to the heart of the city’. Kracauer’s study is important and directly relevant to Fallada’s novel not simply because it scrutinizes the lives and the economic conditions of white-collar workers and places them centre-stage, but also because their lives are seen to have a tragic dimension.
They are in an important sense homeless, more homeless indeed than the industrial worker—as Mr Morschel, Lammchen’s father, puts it in the novel: ‘You don’t stick together; you’ve got no solidarity. So they can push you around just as they like.’ Kracauer,it might be said, is mapping out the territory that is inhabited by Lammchen’s family on the one hand, proletarians with ‘solidarity’, and Pinneberg, very much more adrift, in Kracauer’s sense ‘homeless’. When Kracauer summarizes the comparison between proletariat and white-collar worker he supplies a context for Little Man—What Now? in advance of the novel itself:
The average worker, whom many a white-collar worker likes to look down on, is often not only materially but also existentially his superior. His life as a class-conscious proletarian is roofed over by popular Marxist concepts telling him where he belongs. Admittedly the roof is now leaking mightily.
The mass of white-collar workers differs from the industrial proletariat in that they are intellectually homeless. They cannot connect with the proletarian comrades, and the haven of middle-class values and feelings where they once lived has collapsed ... they live without tenets that they can respect and without a goal that they can ascertain.
Not only does Kracauer sketch out the emotional and existential deprivation that is the lot of the white-collar worker, he also focuses on individual cases at least as ominous as any that Fallada came to flesh out. The Union of White-collar Workers sent out a questionnaire to its unemployed members in early 1929, and the brief résumés of some who replied are harrowingly succinct:
"39 years, married, three children (14,12,9). No earnings for three years. Future? Work, mad-house or gas-tap. Future hopeless, no prospects. A quick death would be the best"— thus writes a thirty-two year old married man, father of two children.
Fallada avoids such extremes, but they cannot have been unknown to either him or his readers. ‘One unemployed less,’a woman remarks as a young man throws himself from a tenement window in the opening sequence of Brecht’s only film, Kuhle Wampe. The film appeared in 1932, the same year as Little Man—What Now?
Topicality of theme and of method, relevance across the spectrum from cultural theorist to general reader, variously fuelled the success of Fallada’s novel. Contexts—economic, political, literary or cultural—are, of course, crucial but timeliness at whatever level is no substitute for intrinsic merit, and the reasons for Fallada’s success must be sought between the covers of the book itself. Or even, to begin with, on the binding of the first edition, which contains a drawing by George Grosz. This is not Grosz the creator of nightmare grotesques, pillorying the inequalities of the Weimar Republic. Here a young girl, smiling, dangles a little toy over a cheery-looking baby in a basket. Not a hint of trouble, no sign of hardship. But a clue to a part of the book’s appeal.
Fallada’s narrative soon puts the Grosz idyll in perspective— the novel has hardly started before Johannes Pinneberg, waiting outside the doctor’s consulting-room, winces violently as he hears Lammchen ‘in a high, clear voice that was almost a shriek’ call out “‘No, no, no!” And once again, “No!” And then, very softly, but he still heard it: “Oh God.”’ Fallada begins with a disaster, an unwanted pregnancy, unwelcome to a couple who are hard-up and not yet married. Within moments, however, they are planning marriage and Pinneberg’s bleak despair has been replaced:
"Her eyes lit up. She had dark blue eyes with a green tinge. And now they were fairly overflowing with light. As if all the Christmas trees of her life were glowing inside her, thought Pinneberg, so moved that he felt embarrassed."
In a very short space Fallada has staged a disaster and then softened the blow. It is a technique that he employs throughout the novel—life is cruel but the Pinnebergs survive, or rather, for this is the common pattern, Lammchen’s innate fortitude banishes the gloom. Grosz’s drawing is, in other words, not after all so misleading— the tower of strength in the Pinneberg household is not Pinneberg but Lammchen, and it takes Pinneberg—and Fallada’s reader—some time to realize how strong she in fact is:
"She stood there, all determination, aggressive, with red cheeks and flashing eyes, her head thrown back. Pinneberg said slowly: ‘You know, Lammchen, I’d thought you were quite different. Much gentler ...’
She laughed, sprang over to him, ran her hand through his hair. ‘Of course I’m different from what you thought I was. Did you really think I could be all sugar and spice when I’ve been going out to work since I left school, and had the sort of father and brother I’ve had, as well as that bitch of a boss and those workmates of mine?’"
Without that central contrast Little Man—What Now? would lose a source of tension, would indeed lose its character as a story not of destruction but of survival. And the contrast has another advantage—Pinneberg’s despair may time and again be mollified by Lammchen, but it is voiced, it is eloquently present in the novel.
It can be a passing comment—‘It just suddenly makes you angry, the way things are set up’—or it can be a sustained, rhetorical diatribe:
He was one of millions. Ministers made speeches to him, enjoined him to tighten his belt, to make sacrifices, to feel German, to put his money in the savings-bank and to vote for the constitutional party.
"Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t, according to the circumstances, but he didn’t believe what they said. Not in the least. His innermost conviction was: they all want something from me, but not for me. It’s all the same to them whether I live or die. They couldn’t care less whether I can afford to go to the cinema or not, whether Lammchen can get proper food or has too much excitement, whether the Shrimp is happy or miserable. Nobody gives a damn."
At such a moment Pinneberg’s misery is a misery shared; close-up becomes wide-angle. If Pinneberg and Lammchen are at the heart of the novel and must in the end account in large measure for its popularity, this does not mean that Fallada presents them solely in terms of the polarity of despair and hope. Most important is his refusal to let their troubles overwhelm the novel or dictate its tone. Indeed his refusal to take them or their troubles entirely seriously may be risky—irony and humour can defuse an explosive theme, and the critical, revolutionary Left, while acknowledging his skill, found his mixed feelings unpalatable. But the humour is inescapably a part of the whole from the moment when Pinneberg, at the start of the novel, having slipped up on birth-control, calls pessaries ‘pessoirs’ and Lammchen takes off her blouse for an abdominal examination. Lammchen, for all her resourcefulness, can be comically incompetent, cooking a pound of peas in five litres of water and producing what Pinneberg ruefully calls ‘hot water’. Pinneberg too, put upon and put down by those with whom he works, predisposed to expect the worst, nevertheless is a source of or an accessory to humour. His early job with Kleinholz, bagging grain, lands him in a richly comic set-up where a drunken father, fearsome mother and pathetic daughter have one goal—to marry the daughter off. When mother, dressed in slippers and dressing- gown, hounds her drunken husband off a dance-floor she is ‘a force of nature, a tornado, a volcanic eruption’ and the reader is a long way from slumps and cash-flow problems.
Pinneberg’s own mother, Mia Pinneberg, whose past, unforgotten by her son, is as suspect as her present, is a comic figure, ferocity incarnate, locked, whenever they meet, in a war of words with her disapproving son. The disapproval is itself important: Pinneberg’s moral stance—he resists a host of temptations and exhibits more than once a straightforward integrity—could easily become too good to be true, but the integrity is being put to the test in encounters with people, Kleinholz, Mia Pinneberg, Jachmann, who are themselves at least in part comic. And the comedy can take unexpected turns—Heilbutt, staunch helper of the Pinnebergs, reduces the by no means strait-laced Pinneberg to cringing embarrassment by suggesting and, worse still, demonstrating that the answer to the dreadful state of Germany is not politics but nudism. Fallada adopts a variety of tones of voice towards his central figures, but his narrative embraces more than the plight of individuals, even though the title—devised not by him but by a colleague— seems to reinforce the individual focus.
At his death Fallada left a five-page manuscript-talk, possibly intended for radio and almost certainly written in 1932. It brings us close to the time when, at extraordinary speed, Fallada wrote the novel. He admits that Farmers, Functionaries and Fireworks had been a laborious enterprise and that he had been sustained by the pleasurable anticipation of writing something wholly different, something less crisis-torn, ‘a story about a marriage, a quite simple good little marriage—a baby is born: two are happy, three are happy.’ But complications of a less idyllic kind intruded:There are these two young people that we’ve been having such pleasant dreams about—what, by the way, are they going to live on? Well he’s going to earn his money, our new hero Pinneberg. Earn his money at a time like this?
... So I said to my wife: ‘You know, it’s not going to be so straightforward for these two young people. I can see difficulties. I’m going to have to collect material about the situation of white-collar workers.’
The route, as we have seen, led to Siegfried Kracauer. In Fallada’s response to the external reality pressing in, as it were, on his characters lies, of course, the ‘Sachlichkeit’ of his novel, but it is easy, in reading Little Man—What Now?, to understate the documentation that underlies the story because Fallada himself does not overstate the socio-critical case. The life of white-collar workers, whether bagging grain or selling men’s clothes, is closely observed, the financial exploitation is accurately measured. Stores such as Mandel’s were the glory of Weimar Berlin, glorified in song, celebrated in giant neon lights, in vast posters and even in spectacular stage-musicals. Fallada exposes the hierarchies that were endemic, the dog-eat-dog rivalries and painful insecurities that the bright lights concealed. And there is exactitude underpinning the humdrum penny-pinching of Lammchen and Pinneberg— the exact price of a cigarette can be crucial—and when Lammchen produces a shopping-list of essentials it is an integral part of the narrative texture, not a piece of down-to-earth documentation tacked on for effect.
Fallada is economical with his facts, avoiding the temptationto root his fiction in a copious spread of documentation. This is most obvious in his treatment of what, after all, is the setting for most of Pinneberg’s troubles—Berlin. Berlin as myth, as endlessly fascinating, endlessly documented metropolis, figures in countless films and literary works of the time. At first sight the two-part structure of the novel—‘The Small Town’ and ‘Berlin’—seems to build a contrast and a sense of climax into the narrative. But Fallada creates no climax, does not make the arrival in Berlin into a grand occasion of the kind experienced by Erich Kästner’s Emil who arrives by train or by Alfred Döblin’s Franz Biberkopf who emerges from prison, or by the wordless camera in Walter Ruttmann’s film Berlin, Symphony of a City, speeding through the suburbs by train into the waking city. Arrival in Berlin for Pinneberg and his wife means above all, after the briefest mention of a ‘mêlée of pedestrians and trams’, a first encounter with the formidable Mia Pinneberg, not a detailed encounter with a vibrant, vivid metropolis.
There is consistency in this—the lives lived by the couple connect only tangentially with the big city, where they see it, they only glimpse it—and then for personal reasons. Thus Johannes in the Tiergarten: ... with the winding blowing out of all corners and a lot of ugly brownish-yellow leaves, it looked particularly desolate.
"It wasn’t empty, far from it. Masses of people were there, clothed in grey, and sallow-faced. Unemployed people, waiting for something, they didn’t themselves know what, for who waited for work any more ...? or Lammchen flat-hunting, noting that ‘it’s a wide world and Berlin’s a big city’ but seeing only what matters to her:
And the sleek cars roared by, and there were delicatessens, and people who earned so much they didn’t know how to spend it all. No, Lammchen didn’t understand it. ... Recently she’d been going ever further east and north, where there were endless frightful blocks of flats, overcrowded, malodorous, noisy."
"Berlin, a cold, unglamourous place, rejects Pinneberg shortly before the end of the novel, when he is roughly handled by the police in the Friedrichstrasse and realizes ‘he was on the outside now, that he didn’t belong here any more’. "
Yet the novel closes on a momentarily upbeat note, moreopen-endedly than in Fallada’s first, unpublished version in which Johannes brings in a prostitute from the street and Lammchen makes them all a cup of coffee. At least in this earlier version the novel ended with a kind of social intervention, but even here the scope for action is limited, the basic predicament stays unresolved.
Any answer to the question in the title might, in any case, have reduced the lasting success of Little Man—What Now?—answers often date more quickly than questions. Certainly when the centenary of Fallada’s birth was celebrated in 1993 commentators were quick to praise Fallada’s avoidance of slick answers, his portrayal of helplessness. The state of mind of workers in Eastern Germany threatened with unemployment could—thus the Tageszeitung— be understood through Fallada’s novel. Fallada, Die Welt suggested,is as much a mouthpiece of the powerless victims as ever.
Fallada himself preferred to leave the What Now? question unanswered. Yet for him the sheer indestructibility of Lammchenwas a kind of answer. A partial answer no doubt and not one for the proponents of root-and-branch policies, but an answer that nevertheless deserves to be heeded:
"People have said to me: ‘Why have you no answer to thequestion “What Now?”’ Lammchen is my answer, I know no better one. Happiness and misery, worries and a child,worries about a child, the ups and downs of life, no more, no less."