This novel was published in 1963, thus after the Second World War. The most important theme of the book is the criticism of bourgeois hypocrisy (there are veiled references to the Marshall Plan and politics) and the hypocrisy of Catholicism. The story takes place over a period of about three hours in the year 1962 and is continuously interrupted by various flashbacks. The setting of the narration is the city of Bonn.
We are dealing with one of Böll’s most pessimistic and gloomy novels, in which his criticism of German society becomes even more severe and his criticism of Catholicism in particular becomes strong. Through the protagonist, a clown named Hans Schnier (the hyponymous hero of the title) the author combats the conformism of German Catholicism that had degraded itself by putting itself at the service of money and politics.
At the centre of this novel, in which the action consists almost entirely of memories, is the unhappy love between Hans and the girl Marie. The theme of the sad, melancholic, drunken clown runs throughout the novel.
Also very interesting is the role of the humble artist that Hans carves out for himself, when his father tells him if he wants to continue studying he replies that he wants to be a clown, his father asks if he wants to be an actor but he reiterates that he wants to be a simple clown, which is an even humbler job than being an actor. The clown is the one who tells the truth by disguising it, he has a freedom that others do not have.