Homo Faber

Homo Faber Study Guide

Though Frisch published nine novels in his lifetime, three clearly stand out as his most masterful works. Among these, Homo Faber (1957) is often linked with its predecessor Stiller (1954; translated as I'm Not Stiller), primarily because Oedipal guilt plays a major role in each novel. Homo Faber caused an immediate response among readers and critics.

There are echoes of autobiography in the work, but not as much as in his other novels. The most direct linkage between Walter Faber and Max Frisch is that in his youth Frisch was engaged to a German Jewess who ultimately broke it off because she felt that Frisch did not love her. Homo Faber also keeps historical events in the background, while it features individual conflict. Faber tries to live in the present so, in his eyes, the Nazi past, the new hope of socialism in Eastern Europe, and the development of the Third World all seem immaterial.

Nevertheless, having a general idea of world events at the time provides a clearer context for the novel. Switzerland remained neutral during World War II, a position which many found extremely controversial. While Frisch was an active pacifist, he was also extremely opposed to fascism and racism; consequently, it is unlikely he entirely agreed with Switzerland's desire to remain aloof during the war. Switzerland also recieved considerable economic benefit from its ability to deal both with the Nazis and with the Allied Nations. This idea may shed light on Walter's reflections in Cuba. After World War II, Swiss authorities were considering the construction of a Swiss nuclear bomb, an idea that was extremely problematic for Frisch. In 1958, just one year after the publication of Homo Faber, the population of Switzerland clearly voted in favor of the bomb. The bomb was never built, however, because the Swiss people and government came to see the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 as a viable alternative.

In America the Cold War was well underway, and Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt for communist spies had begun in 1950. The U.S. economy was booming, and middle-class Americans could afford luxuries undreamed of by the previous generation. Frisch's depiction of America in the novel was clearly influenced by his recent visits in 1951-52 and the summer of 1956.

Homo Faber has enjoyed considerable success. It was published in English only a year or two after its release in German, and it has been translated into many other languages. In 1991, the year of Frisch's death, Homo Faber was made into the film Voyager, starring Sam Shepard.