Little Man, What Now? (novel)

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Little Man, What Now? (German title: Kleiner Mann, was nun?) is a novel by Hans Fallada, which was first published in 1932, the year before Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The book was an immediate success in Germany, where today it is considered to be a modern classic, given its intense descriptions of the last days of the Weimar Republic. The book was also the breakthrough for Fallada as a writer of fiction.

In 1934 the film Little Man, What Now? was released in the United States. It clearly reflects the situation of the young German mind during that period, especially the effects of war and the economic shut down.

Plot synopsis[edit]

The bookkeeper Johannes Pinneberg and his girlfriend, the sales girl Emma "Lämmchen" Mörschel, marry when they find out that she is two months pregnant. Hardly any time passes until Pinneberg is fired and must find a new job in the middle of the economic crisis.

Pinneberg’s despicable mother Mia, a nightclub hostess from Berlin, comes to the rescue by finding her son a job as a salesman in the Berlin department store Mandels. However, Pinneberg is under heavy pressure because the boss, Spannfuss, introduces a monthly quota for all salesmen to achieve, otherwise they are made redundant. This leads to fierce competition between the colleagues. As their son Horst, whom they affectionately call “Shrimp,” is born, money again becomes scarce because their health insurance payouts are delayed.

After a year Pinneberg becomes less able to work at Mandels. After many warnings about lateness, he is very behind on his monthly quota. He begs the film actor Franz Schlüter, who wanders into the shop, to buy something from him. The actor refuses and complains to the manager about Pinneberg’s behavior, and Pinneberg is promptly fired.

In November 1932, the small family illegally moves into Pinneberg’s former colleague’s summer house 40 km east of Berlin. Although Pinneberg has been unemployed for 14 months, his wife forbids him to steal coal. Instead, she darns socks and does dressmaking for local families to earn a bit. One of Pinneberg’s journeys to Berlin ends in a fiasco, as Pinneberg, with his poor appearance, is chased away from Friedrichstrasse by the police. The couple realize that good old-fashioned love is all that matters.

Fallada gives a detailed description of the living conditions of the white-collar workers of the time. He also shows the roles of trade unions, governmental institutions, and sacking in the labor market. Businesses are shown to pit people of the same class against each other and reveal everyone’s worst side.

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