- Author: Gunter Grass
- Genre: fictional autobiography
- Title: The Tin Drum .
- Publisher: Vintage (out of print — read the Kindle edition)
- Published: 1959
- Table of contents: book 1 – book 2 – book 3
- Dedication : For Anna Grass
- Timeline: 1920 – 1950 ( mixture of fact/fantasy…going back and forth in time)
- Themes: memory – guilt – isolation
- Trivia: Herman Melville was an important influence on G. Grass’s writing.
- Trivia: There are NO flashbacks. Everything is written chronologically.
- Trivia: Gunter Grass made an extensive writing plan and timetables.
- He started the book in 1953, published it in 1959. English translation: 1961
- Oskar Matzerath narrates both his private and public history.
- It begins with his grandmother’s conception in a potato field in 1899.
- It ends on Oskar’s 30th birthday in postwar Germany in 1954
- Oskar’s mother had a Nazi husband and a Polish patriot lover.
- The narrator at the age of three decides to stop growing.
- He remains physically a toddler out of disgust with the adult world.
- Oskar has supernatural abilities.
- He is capable of screaming so loudly that he can shatter objects.
- He also was given a tin drum, purchased from a Jewish-owned music store.
- The store was later destroyed by the Nazis.
- Oskar keeps the tin drum with him all the times and constantly plays.
Narrator: first person autobiographical – unreliable
- Oskar is writing his memoires to reveal experiences that changed his life.
- It made him what he is today: inmate in a mental institution.
- Confusing: Oskar shifts from 1st person to third person narration without warning.
- “However, and here Oskar must confess to development of a sort,
- …something did grow…and not always to my best advantage…” (pg 49)
- The character of Oskar displays many of the obsessive and repetitive habits.
- One would now describe as symptoms of autism,
- Examples: his constant drumming to his screaming tantrums.
- The repetitive language in the book reflects the sense of
- …Oskar’s repetitive behaviors and sounds.
- Example: chapter 1 Wide Skirt: just on a few pages 7-12
- words: brickworks (16x) – potato(es) (29 x) – fire (16x) – smoke (11 x)
Theme: isolation – Oskar likes to stay in the mental hospital.
- He wants no part of the chaotic outside world.
- ‘have the rails raised even higher to keep anyone from coming too close”. (pg 4)
- His metal white bed, “it is my consolation” ( pg 3).
- Visitors disrupt “the silence I’ve woven between my white metal bed bars.”(pg 3)
Theme: Guilt: Grass was the voice of a German generation that came of age in WW II.
- They had to bear the burden of their parents’ guilt for the atrocities of the Nazis.
- Grass never failed to confront Germans with what they did.
Symbol: red and white, the colors of the Polish flag
- Grass emphasizes the rivalry between Poland and Germany.
- Joseph Koljaiczek is an arsonist. (chapter 2 ‘Under the Raft’)
- ” …whitewashed sawmill ablaze in red, to the greater glory of
- an indeed partitioned but therefore even more firmly united Poland.” (pg 15)
- Tin drum was a means of protest to express Oskar’s anger.
- He beats the drums until they break...and gets another to replace it.
- Tin drum is the ‘tension’ throughout the book.
- It was painted in red and white lacquer ( colors of Polish flag).
- A Jewish toy merchant sells Oskar “.. white and red lacquered tin drum.
- Oskar was a drummer by trade, and…
- could neither live without a drum nor wished to.” (pg 186)
- Oskar needed the drum to live in the present, yet NOT forget the past.
Symbol: grandmother’s skirts = safe, peaceful place in a world of chaos
- Simple words that evoke such a touching childlike yearning for a safe place to live…
- It was always summer under my grandmother’s skirts.
- …as the Christmas tree glowed, as I hunted for Easter eggs, or marked every All Saint’s Day.
- Nowhere could I live more at peace with the calendar than under my grandmother’s skirts. (pg 113)
Best chapters: ” Shop Windows” and ” No Miracle” = creative writing at its best!
Motif: Card game skat to help the reader to comprehend the underlying message:
- Card game only played by three: Jan (lover) Agnes (wife) Alfred (husband).
- I represented a ‘house of cards’ unstable situation that can suddenly collapse.
- Agnes is the Queen of Hearts and Jan is the lowly Seven of Spades.
- As Jan is led away by the German police…
- …he raises his hand with the Queen of Hearts to wave good-bye to Oskar. (pg 228)
- Oskar finds the Seven of Spades attached to a stick where Jan was executed. (pg 238)
Motif: the scent of a woman ( lasting memory that will never disappear)
- Grandmother – slightly rancid butter
- Agnes (mother) – sardine oil
- Marie – vanilla
- Roswitha – cinnamon, nutmeg and crushed cloves
- Frau Geff – decaying nightgown
- Grass starts the book with a strong attention-grabbing first sentence:
- “Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper watches me,
- scarcely lets me out of his sight, for there’s a peephole in the door,
- and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can’t see through blue-eyed types like me.”
- This makes the reader want to find out how did he get into the mental institution?
- What is the significance of their eye colors?
- Brown eyes ( non-Aryan, inferior) vs Blue eyes ( Aryan, superior)
What did I learn by reading The Tin Drum ?
- Grass wanted the reader to THINK and not EMPATHIZE with the main character.
- He felt strongly that the German middle-class did not THINK during WW II
- It therefore allowed Hitler’s regime to flourish.
- Grass deflects the reader from the narrative using 3 methods:
- Grotesque details about everyday life as told by Oskar.
- (grotesque in the story must match the grotesque of the Hitler regime)
- Unreliable narrator reporting events…not competent in interpreting them and confusing certain facts.
- Parody of a Bildungsroman:
- Oskar say at his birth…
- “I was one of those clair-audient infants whose mental development is completed at birth..” (pg 35)
- This remark is in contrast with the fundamental notion of a Bildungsroman:
- character’s mental and spiritual development is supposed to be completed gradually through crucial experiences in society.
- This book is impossible to review in a few short paragraphs.
- Gunter Grass reveals fifty years of German history using
- dazzling language skills, humor, symbolism and parody.
- I wanted to learn something new by reading The Tin Drum.
- I took the time to do some research before starting the book.
- This book is an example of a reading experience as was …
- Don Quixote (Cervantes) and 2666 (Bolano)
- Last thoughts:
- I could not read this book lazily while lounging on the sofa.
- It required me to ‘work hard’ in order to discover all it has to offer.
- Gunter Grass is truly one of the great modern authors.
- He deserves his Nobel Prize 1999!
Last thoughts 24 hours after finishing the book:
- This was not an easy book to review mainly because of its scope.
- What do you mention, what do you leave out?
- The book kept spinning in my thoughts last night and I had to consciously say to myself:
- “Let it go, Nance”.
- After having had a good nights sleep I am still exhausted.
- This sense of exhaustion overwhelmed me by only a few books, 2666 and Don Quixote.
- These are the books that the reader must dare read.
- It requires a commitment.
- It gives you back a sense of accomplishment.
- This book was an anomaly.
- At times I was enthralled with Grass’s writing and sense of humor (best chapters references)
- and at other times could barely read the descriptions.
- I don’t think I could have appreciated this book as a young student.
- One needs some life experiences to help you digest the material.
- I must add, you like the book or you hate it.
Score 4: ….after more thought….
Author: Gunter Grass (1927 – 2015)
- Günter Grass was born Danzig, today the Polish city of Gdańsk.
- His parents were middle-class merchants of German-Polish descent.
- He became a willing member of the Hitler Youth. (1944 to 1945)
- Grass was wounded in April 1945 and captured by the Americans.
- They took him to see the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau.
- Grass could not believe that such atrocities could have taken place,
- He thought it was a hoax perpetrated by the Americans.
- When the Nüremberg trials on Nazi war crimes were held…
- …he finally realized the truth of the historical record
Page 593: Gunter Grass (1927 – 2015) RIP
- ” He’s run out of words.
- For what was once behind my back […] is now coming toward me:
- Better start running, the Black Cook’s coming!
- Ha! Ha! Ha!”
Main characters: book 1
- Oskar Matzerath:
- Alfred Matzerath:
- Bruno Munsterberg:
- Anna Koljaiczek Bronski:
- Joseph Koljaiczek
- Agnes Koljaiczek
- Jan Bronski
- Sigismund Markus
Main characters: book 2
- Maria Truczinski
- Roswitha Raguna
- “The Dusters”
Main characters: book 3
- Sister Dorothea
- Egon Munzer Klepp
- Gottfried Vittlar