The magnum opus of Heinrich Böll, The Laugher, weaves the tale of a laugher–a person whose laughter is required for recordings and live performances. In a society with numerous professions that speak for themselves and need no lengthy explanation, our protagonist felt constrained whenever he was asked about his career. For him, he has mastered the art of laughing, with his laughter encompassing all categories of age, all classes of society, all the centuries, all nationalities and in every manner imaginable. He stressed that he is neither a clown nor a comedian but he portrayed gaiety. He called himself an actor but his talents in mime and elocution would not leave one dumbfounded. His laughter had become indispensable on tape, records and television–all done in accordance to the director’s instructions for the right fee. His infectious laughter also saved a lot of third- and fourth-rate comedians from embarrassment. Needless to say, our main character found his job tiring and so far from his true personality. At home, he was very solemn, serious, and pessimistic. He often enjoyed quiet and peaceful moments with his wife who had also forgotten how to laugh. The essay finished with the persona stating one of the saddest lines in the composition: “My own laughter I have never heard”.
The two themes I thought were prevalent are being of service to others at the expense of personal fulfillment and keeping up pretenses.
The persona in The Laugher may be likened to anybody who chooses to put on a cheerful facade for the public to see but is really formal, serious and humorless in his private side. This immediately brings to mind the two contrasting faces of theater–the sad and happy face. This further reinforces the idea that it never pays to pretend to be somebody else you’re not.
Life will always have its smiles and frowns–it’s a fact of life. Perhaps, the character fleshed out in the selection may not have used his job (that of a laugher) as an avenue to escape from the silent bond that ties him to his uneventful life, like others do, but he remains to be a metaphor for the modern-day individual.