Billiards at Half-Past Nine Literary Analysis
Billiards at Half-Past Nine is a novel written by author Heinrich Boll in 1959. The whole story is happening in a single day, September 6, 1958, but flashbacks and memory remembering by some of the characters stretch the story back. In the center of the novel is Faehmel family’s history, beginning with the last part of the 19th century and ending with the present day from 1958.
The author symbolizes the German conscience after the war and revises the effects the Nazi era had in the entire world and its inhabitants. He debates whether it’s possible for someone to accept the role they played in the suffering and death of so many people. This, however, is very subtle, as the reader can’t figure out the motifs and the metaphors without knowing more about the author as he never uses Hitler’s name or even Nazism in this novel. Boll came from a pacifist, Catholic family and refused to play any role in Nazism or the Hitler Youth.
Boll uses metaphors to portrait this anxiousness and the entire context of the World War II. The entire novel is a metaphor which portraits two opposing parties: the ‘lambs’ and the ‘Buffalo’ and the differences between them. A strange distinction, for example, reminds vaguely of the Bible, where Christ separated the Sheep and the Goats – Matthew 25:1-46.
The Buffalo Sacrament represents a metaphoric representation of those who unite in the belief there should be an all-powerful, all-conquering Germany. The author leaves the Buffalo Sacrament purposely ambiguous even though there are many references to it in the novel. We can deduce that the people who take this Sacrament are exactly those who believe in the imperialistic Germany, the greatest nation on Earth.
The author clarifies vaguely the purpose of the Sacrament when he hints to Buffalo’s holy name, Hindenburg. This denotes a messiah for this cult, accompanied by a hymn: the Nazi marching song. The song itself points to the violence of the Buffalo and his followers and the catastrophic result of their belief. Thus, the German war hero opposes the ‘Holy Lamb’ from the Bible. Boll points out the extreme idolatry of those who are part of the Sacrament and think the idea of a ‘Greater Germany’ is superior to the Church and the Word of God.
A character that portrays very well the Buffalo Sacrament is Otto Kosters, the general who ordered the main character, Faehmel, to wipe out St Anthony’s. He is a representation of the people who support the war with all their hearts and souls and ignore or don’t care about the destruction and pain it brings to everyone around them.
The people who take this sacrament are opposed to the lambs, a group of true pacifists who will not take any part in violence. They are kind-hearted, loving persons who are against war and anything destructive and damaging for the people. The ‘Lamb’ symbol lost its value in the Germany that followed World War II when the Christian faith Boll held so dearly was perverted and viewed rather as a weakness than a desirability.
The notion of the Christ being, in Buffalo’s universe, lessened to a nameless, cunning woman that walks around barefoot and dressed like a Shepherdess, covered in sheep’s dung and who ministers a false Christianity not because of faith or inspiration but rather because of the advantages she may gain. Here Boll shows he’s overwhelmed by the secularization of the church and the complete desertion of the Christian ways he held so dearly and allows himself to get swallowed by pessimism in spite of the general hopefulness of the novel.
Billiards at Half-Past Nine is at its core a work of dualism and imagery. We have two groups with opposing ideologies and beliefs: first the people who adhered to the Buffalo Sacrament, which are led by the Buffalo – the image of Hitler in the novel, people full of self-importance and hatred for anyone other than themselves, ready to slaughter anyone who stand against them without thinking twice about it. And then we have the group of the lambs, true pacifists, people who believe in Christianity and are represented by their leader, the Lamb of God, Christ. This is the group the author is part of and though it seems they won, the group was largely corrupted by the end.