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The Best Book Title Ever -Beware of Pity

Updated on August 14, 2015

What makes a good title? The title of the work is supposed to be an introduction the work at hand, an advertisement to attract curiosity and usually a short hint to either the plot and its characters (“Rick and Morty” or “The Hunger Games” comes to mind) or the central theme of the book(“No Longer Human”). For me, however, there is a title that managed a lot more than either of these things, and that is the title to the book by Stephan Zweig, “Beware of Pity”.

“Beware of Pity” is Zweig's longest work and only novel, and it was adapted into a 1946 movie. Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is also a loose adaption of the story, which tells the story of a lieutenant working in a town close to Vienna shortly before the First World War. He meets a disabled girl and the two develop a complicated relationship, which slowly spirals out of control. As one might imagine, “Beware of Pity” is a title that points towards the theme of the book, as pity in all its forms is indeed what the book explores, and what drives so many of the characters and their interactions with each other.

The Meaning of the Title

But the title “Beware of Pity” has another quality to it, it goes beyond merely stating the theme: it warns of it. The title is a piece of foreshadowing, and like the best foreshadowing, it keeps you hooked: what will this pity lead to? Probably nothing good, going by the title. Whenever characters showed pity to each other in this book, I instinctively straightened up, wondering if something bad would come of it. The title of the book was on my mind the entire time, and it colored my perception of what was going on, giving an uneasy feel to what might otherwise have been cheerful scenes.

“Beware of Pity” is the only title I feel is truly a part of the book, in the sense that removing it and reading the book without knowing the title really would alter how I read it. While several hints about the subject matter are dropped in the book, of course, there is a weight to the title that would not have come about from simply having “Beware of Pity” be said by a character in the book. We remember the title, as we often watch it every time we sit down with the book, and Zweig uses this to give us a vague warning of what is to come.


I can not remember any other times when a title has made such an impression on me, but if anyone knows of another title that made an impression on them, I would love to hear it. I do wonder if any other authors or movie directors have ever truly considered a title to be part of the work, instead of just advertising for it, and have used those few words on the cover as well as Zweig did.


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      Kevin Goodwin 2 years ago

      I have to admit that is a very good title.