German subscription cinema and literature
4. Das Brot der frühen Jahre
Reasons to study this work
The seamless manner in which the novel's themes interweave makes it a very rewarding read and one which lends itself to character development.
The interest of the work
Written in 1955, Böll's Novelle Das Brot der frühen Jahre is a very interesting work tracing a day in the life of washing machine engineer Walter Fendrich. The events happening throughout the book relate to his going to the station to pick up a young lady, Hedwig, coming to the big city for the first time and what transpires when he takes her home. The events are intermingled with Walter looking back on his former life going back to the war. Much of this period involved the school boy, then the apprentice which he became making every effort to get his hands on food, particularly bread, hence the title.
The Novelle covers a period where the horrors of war are still apparent and fresh in the memory, at the same time as hinting at the emerging materialism, with the washing machine symbolising a whole raft of other consumer goods which are coming through the system and contributing to German's Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s and 60s.
Böll's political leanings come through clearly in the novel where Walter is becoming only too aware of the profits that his Mittelstand employer, Wickweber, is making, much of at it as his expense.