White shirts appear repeatedly throughout the book as a symbol of corporatism, incompetence, and the inhumanity of bureaucracy. Men in white shirts prevent young Ove from extinguishing his childhood home when it catches fire. Ove fights with other “men in white shirts” over his wife’s health, and repeatedly yells at yet another man in a white shirt about his driving. In every case, the men who wear white shirts remain nameless and featureless, but they all share something in common: they are bureaucrats. For Ove, the white shirts symbolize the loss of common sense and decency that go hand-in-hand with the loss of human connection. Increasing levels of bureaucracy, it seems, have left people unable to treat one another properly or extend even the most basic levels of care and respect to one another. The white shirts echo the blankness and anonymity of bureaucracy in their very appearance. Though Ove does make a distinction between "suits" and white shirts, the two represent very similar ideas in that they both take actions that go directly against what's actually best for Ove's family. However, when Ove saves the "suit" from an oncoming train after the suit faints at the train station, it stands as an action which stands not only as a testament to Ove’s deep sense of compassion, but as a rebuke of the lack of compassion exhibited by the men in suits and white shirts themselves.
White Shirts Quotes in A Man Called Ove
But everywhere, sooner or later, he was stopped by men in white shirts with strict, smug expressions on their faces. And one couldn't fight them. Not only did they have the state on their side, they were the state.