The story “The Balek Scales” by Heinrich Böll tells the experience of the narrator’s grandfather in the village upon which the Balek family had a firm grip. The Balek family, later known as Balek von Biligan, is part of the elite class, as the following quote describes: “the family who lived in the chateau and drove two carriages, who always maintained one boy from the village while he studied theology at the seminary in Prague” (Böll 15-16).
There are a lot more details, but given the following quotation, they can be seen as a prominent family from the elite class (Böll 16). The scales—known as the Balek scales in the story—are the Baleks’ tool for trading mushrooms, herbs, and other tradable goods for money—marks and pfennigs. No one ever questions their sole possession of the scales.
However, the narrator’s grandfather, Franz Brücher, discovers injustice within the measurement of the Balek scales. Even with this evidence, the efforts of villagers to seek justice are thwarted by the power and influence of the Balek von Biligan family, which Böll portrays as a classic battle between the working and elite classes in “The Balek Scales.”
Injustice is the recurring theme in the story as the Balek scales—the scales of justice for the villagers—favor the Balek von Biligan clan, as the story suggests in the following lines: “he pulled the five pebbles from his pocket, held them out to the young woman, and said, ‘This much, fifty-five grams, is short in every pound of your justice’” (Böll 16).
As the line states, the injustice that the narrator’s grandfather claims in front of Frau Balek von Biligan is the unequal or unfair measurement that the scales present for their foraged goods—mushrooms, herbs, and the like. Inevitably, the injustice results in a short bloody revolt with the Reeve’s gendarmes overpowering the population.
Then everything goes back to normal, with the Balek von Biligan clan still on the driver seat—in control. The power of the Baleks is too strong for Franz Brücher’s, whose search for justice is seen as a futile attempt to overthrow the seemingly unfair rule of the Baleks over the village.
Looking at it from a different angle, the village, along with the other two villages, could have avoided the short bloody revolt if Franz Brücher remained oblivious to the injustice that the Balek scales represented.
Upon confronting this injustice, Franz experiences some tragic events, as stated in the following lines: “the reeve’s gendarmes arrived…shooting and stabbing as they came and removed the scales and the book by force. My grandfather’s little sister lost her life,” (Böll 16-17) and “My grandfather’s parents had to leave the village, and the new grave of their little daughter” (Böll 17).
Franz Brücher experiences two tragic moments in his lifetime which were caused by the Balek scales. These were his little sister’s death and their family’s constant migration. This could have been avoided by Franz if he remained ignorant to the injustice mentioned.
A classic battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes unfolds in the story of The Balek Scale. Relating the story to the social divisions of society, it is a fact—always has been—that the rich have control over those who are not because of the wealth they possess and their strong influence over the government; at least a portion of it is attracted to the wealthy of prominent families like the Baleks in the story.
The scales of the story represent the injustice in the society—they favor the rich over the poor most of the time anyway. The scales may actually represent the justice system in society as they can sometimes be distorted in favor of those with money. The story represents this illness that is quite evident in past societies, as well as in today’s society. Regardless of how strong is the resolve of the acting “hero” or “deliverer of justice,” his efforts are usually just futile.
Thus, the story entails a classic battle between the rich and the poor. This battle is always intensified by a mere claim for an injustice brought about by the rich, supposedly, which affects the poor many times over. As the following quotation suggests, the injustice that Franz Brücher and his family experience in the village is actually present in every place they went to: “but did not stay long anywhere because it pained them to see how everywhere the finger of justice swung falsely” (Böll 17).
This clearly shows how injustice is present everywhere and how great is its effect on those who are least fortunate—the poor. It will surely take a long time to cure this illness of society because those who know about this injustice remain oblivious to its presence in society; they are just watching it eat away the true concept of justice.
The last two lines in the story are probably the most striking as the Brücher family and many others realize the gravity of injustice in society: “And those who wanted to listen can hear the tale of the Baleks von Biligan, whose justice lacked a tenth part. But there were few who listened” (Böll 17). In this line, those who receive the painful end of the spear of injustice find it futile to express to the suffering they are feeling caused by the injustice. It is futile because rarely do people listen to their woes and cries for justice.
Hardly anyone listens to them because of their place in society as the poor working class—during that time, the poor do not seem to have a strong voice in society. The rich and powerful simply have control over most of them. Any revolt or uprising seems to be thwarted most of the time; however, there are times when a revolt becomes successful.
Heinrich Böll’s stor,y The Balek Scales, entails a seemingly unending battle between the rich and the poor as the latter would usually rise against the injustices that the former inflicts upon them and the society. However, it seems that the rich are too powerful and influential to be folded easily. It remains uncertain for the tide of this epic battle to change as many still remain oblivious to the injustices that occur within society.
Böll, Heinrich. “The Balek Scales.” A Walk in my World: International Short Stories about Youth. Eds. Anne Mazer. New York: Persea Books, 2000. 9–17.
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