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 although first published in June 1932[1], is set between 1930 and November 1932. The book was an immediate success in Germany, given its intense descriptions of the harsh life in the years after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the first years of the Great Depression. The book was also the breakthrough for Fallada as a writer of fiction.

After Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Fallada had to make a few changes to the novel that removed anything that showed the Nazis in a bad light: a Sturmabteilung (SA) thug had to be turned into a soccer thug, for example, and the book stayed in print through 1941 after which paper shortages curtailed the printing of novels.

In 2016 a complete edition[2] was published in Germany that added about 100 pages to the original 400 pages in the 1932 edition. The cuts had been made with Fallada's consent by his publisher Ernst Rowohlt. German reviewers agreed that the tone and the structure of the novel had not suffered from the cuts, but that the restored sections added 'colour and atmosphere,' such as a dream like Robinson Crusoe island fantasy taking the main character away from his drab everyday life, a visit to the cinema to see a Charles Chaplin movie, and an evening at the Tanzpalast (Dance Palace).

Kleiner Mann is today considered a modern classic in Germany, with its depiction of the last days of the Weimar Republic, and was one of the first novels to be republished after the war in 1947. Its success in 1932 rescued Ernst Rowohlt's publishing house, and he made it No.1 in his numbered series of paperback novels. The complete 1932 edition of the novel is available in German at Projekt Gutenberg-DE.[3]

The 1933 German film Kleiner Mann - was nun? was made under Nazi censorship. Fallada had already remarked in 1932 that the script had little to do with his novel, and that the script writers "would take a different approach."[4] 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 and is a little closer to the novel than the German film.

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, while also highlighting the benefits of Germany's social care system which pays unemployment benefits for a while, takes care of the medical bills when baby Horst is born, and pays Emma so that she doesn't have to work in the weeks before and after giving birth. Businesses are shown to exploit and pit people of the same class against each other, and reveal everyone's worst side.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Kleiner Mann – was nun? Roman. Rowohlt, Berlin 1932
  2. ^ Kleiner Mann – was nun? Roman. Erstmals in der Originalfassung. Aufbau, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-351-03641-6
  3. ^ Kleiner Mann – was nun? Complete novel in German at Projekt Gutenberg-DE. Much of Fallada's work is available in German at Projekt Gutenberg-DE Hans Fallada.
  4. ^ Illustrierter Film-Kurier, 29. September 1932, Vereinigte Verlagsgesellschaften Franke & Co., Berlin 1932.