By Nevin Ulusoy

Art is a way to come face to face with the details of life that we forget or seem not to care, maybe not notice in the turmoil of everyday struggles. What we have in the depths of our minds, souls, both light and dark, problems concerning this world and beyond, sometimes in a funny, sometimes tragic way are pictured in different forms. It is a trial to make us free from everything that binds us with chains, things we kneel before as their subserviant slaves. Life styles that we see everybody has, traditions we follow without asking and the aims everybody has without knowing why. Art wants us to stop and think on what we are doing, how we live our lives and most crucially, to ask whether it is what we really want or not. Where does pleasure lie, in being selfish or caring for others as well?

Heinrich Böll’s “The Clown” is a masterpiece which questions the institutions and traditions that suffocate people, depicts the morality that is immoral and the hypocrisy of people and systems that are dominant in society. He is a unique German writer of post-World War II. He won Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972. He was born in 1917, in Cologne and died in 1985, in Bornheim-Merten. He started his writing career with short stories. He also wrote essays. He wrote realistic novels using satire and irony. He was harshly criticized after “The Clown” was published because of the ideas on Catholic institutions. A Roman Catholic himself, he is after the loving nature of religion and shows the problematic side of the comments of institutions.

Let us listen to “the clown”, his tale is our tale, a tale of thousands of years of humanity. Light is in our hands, free from all nonsensical rules and behaviour.  

Hans Schiner, our clown, is the son of a really prosperous family. His family owns a coal mine and many other things, but except for the spacious house which he feels being suffocated in and the numerous cars they have, they almost live a life of a poor family. He tells his father when he comes to see him in his downfall, that he never remembered being full after meals as a child. They did not have eggs at home, his mother always said they were very unhealthy and they were not allowed to have a hot bath, hot water was thought to be a great extravagance. His mother keeps repeating “money is eternal.” “Eternal money. An eternal love”, says our clown. She does not hesitate to talk about Nazis as evil and become an important figure in societies against racism, he remembers her being on the side of Hitler during the war, just like most of the people and artists of that time. She even sent her daughter, Henrietta, to visit the troops, who died during her visit, a girl of sixteen. He thinks about her a lot, cannot forgive his parents. He is in a great tragic situation now, he cannot work properly because the only beloved he has, Marie has left him for religious reasons. He is not a believer in the common sense, does not belong to a church, but Marie is a Catholic. They have been living together for three years, she did not like it that way, wanted to get married and raise their children as Catholics. They were very happy actually and he did not interfere with her religious ideas, took her to services in church, they went to religious meetings together. He felt some kind of hypocrisy in the meetings, in the behaviour of the people there. He told the story of a worker, Frehlingen, who lived with a widow with three children and left them because the priest told him to stop living this sinful way of life. Hans believes this was wrong because the widow became a prostitute to be able to look after her children and the man a drunkard because he was really in love with her. People try to explain everything with rules, but if other people are hurt, Hans cannot be satisfied with such rules. He thinks “people would do the good and appropriate thing only when it was beneficial for them, too. “His being a clown is a rejection of the behaviour code and opinions of people actually, people are motivated by the things that are useful for themselves, but they always say they act for the benefit of other people. All he wants is to live his life in the way he feels appropriate for him and Marie is the only person he needs around him. From the beginning of their relationship they faced obstacles, starting with the neighbours whom he described as having eyes sharper than the devil. Marie needed “Catholic air” sometimes, they moved from a city to another because of his job, lived in hotels, but they both loved this way of living. Her house was little, but Hans felt so much spaciousness in those “narrow rooms”.

He needed to rehearse at the mirror, “a clown whose most impressing part is his immobile face…” Without Marie, he cannot even do it and we understand what Marie means for him, he would run to Marie after his exercise, after looking at the mirror for a long time, he “would watch himself in her eyes…” He is “frightened of getting mad… There was no one to bring me back from the mirror.” He cannot distinguish what the real things are, what really happened in the past. He looks at the empty wardrobe, he grieves so much. He has started drinking, he does not have nearly any money, he telephones to some friends, his parents, his brother who studies to become a priest. He says to the priest who answers the phone that he is suffering from a “spiritual bleeding.” He feels the priest is disturbed by the word “spirit”, that “he was unable to understand something connected to the soul could be that important. “Nobody helps him, nobody is with him and he imagines Marie married, having children, always in dark places and going to church to confess, the priest being unable to see what the matter was with her. “You need a clown.” he says. 

We leave our clown, in his desperate situation, in his make-up. So much sorrow behind the mask, eyes that do not see, reflecting so many people. Even when you break your chains, they might stop you in some way or other. Prejudices, common ideas, things we try to possess just for the sake of possessing are all poisons for our hearts. Let us listen to “the clown”, his tale is our tale, a tale of thousands of years of humanity. Light is in our hands, free from all nonsensical rules and behaviour.  

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