The Tin Drum is a 1959 novel by Günter Grass. The novel is the first book in Grass’s Danziger Trilogy. It was adapted into a 1979 film, which won the Palme d’Or in the same year, and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film the following year.
Summary and synapse
The story revolves around the life of Oskar Matzerath, narrated by himself when he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital during the years 1952-1954.
Born in 1924 in the free city of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland), with the ability of thought and perception of an adult, he decides never to grow up when he hears his father declare that he would become a shopkeeper. Endowed with a piercing screech that can break glass or be used as a weapon, Oskar declares himself to be one of those “clairaudient children,” whose “spiritual development is complete at birth and need only assert itself.”
Preserve the stature of a child while experiencing the beginning of World War II, various love affairs, and the world of post-war Europe. Despite all this, a toy tin drum, the first he received as a gift on his third birthday, followed by many replacement drums each time he used one excessively vigorously, remains his most prized possession; He is willing to be violent to keep it.
Oskar considers that he has two “alleged parents”: his mother’s husband, Alfred Matzerath, a member of the Nazi party, and his cousin and lover Jan Bronski, a Danzig Pole who is executed for defending the Polish post office in Danzig during the German invasion of Poland.
When Oskar’s mother dies, Alfred marries Maria, a woman who is secretly Oskar’s first lover. After marrying Alfred, Maria gives birth to Kurt, whom Oskar refers to thereafter as his son. But Oskar is disappointed to discover that the baby persists in his growth and will not join him in stopping growth at the age of three.
During the war, Oskar joins a company of dwarves who entertain German troops on the front line. But when his second love, known as the tiny Roswitha, is killed by allied troops in the Normandy invasion, Oskar returns to his family in Danzig, where he becomes the leader of a juvenile criminal gang (similar to the Edelweiss pirates). .
The Russian army soon captures Danzig, and invading troops shoot Alfred after he is seized, while swallowing his party’s pin to avoid being revealed as a Nazi.
Oskar feels some guilt over the death of his two alleged parents. He then takes Joseph Bronski to the Polish post office in an effort to repair his drum and returns Alfred Matzerath’s Nazi party pin while he is questioned by Soviet soldiers.
After the war, Oskar, his widowed stepmother, and son have to leave the Polish city of Danzig and move to Düsseldorf, where he models nude and works engraving headstones. Increasing tensions force Oskar to live apart from Maria and Kurt; He decides to live on an apartment owned by the Zeidlers. Upon moving, he falls in love with Dorothea, a neighbor, but fails to seduce her.
During a meeting with fellow musician Klepp, he asks Oskar how he has authority over the judgment of music. Oskar, ready to prove himself once and for all, picks up his drum and plays despite his promise not to play again after Alfred’s death, and plays a measure on his drums. Subsequent events led Klepp, Oskar, and Scholle, a guitarist, to form the jazz band Rhine River Three.
They are discovered by Mr. Schmuh, who invites them to play at the Onion Cellar club. After a virtuous performance, a talent scout from a record company discovers Oskar as a jazz drummer, and offers him a contract. Oskar soon reaches fame and riches.
One day, while walking through a field, he finds a cut finger: the ring finger of sister Dorothea, who has been killed. Then he meets and befriends Vittlar. Oskar allows himself to be falsely convicted of the murder and is confined to a madhouse, where he writes his memoirs.
Genre: Magic Realism Novel
The novel is strongly political in nature, although it goes beyond a political novel in the stylistic plurality of writing. There are elements of allegory, myth and legend that place it in the genre of magical realism.
- Oskar Matzerath: Writes his memoirs from 1952 to 1954, aged 28-30, appearing as a zeitgeist throughout historical milestones. He is the main protagonist of the novel and an unreliable narrator.
- Bruno Munsterberg: Oskar’s guardian, who watches him through a peephole. Make knot sculptures inspired by Oskar’s stories.
- Anna Koljaiczek Bronski: Oskar’s grandmother conceived Oscar’s mother in 1899, which is when her memory begins.
- Joseph Koljaiczek (“Bang Bang Jop” or “Joe Colchic”): Oskar’s grandfather, a “firebug”.
- Agnes Koljaiczek: Oskar’s mother.
- Jan Bronski: cousin and lover of Agnes. Oskar’s alleged father. Politically on the side of the Poles.
- Alfred Matzerath: Agnes’ husband. Oskar’s other alleged father. Politically on the side of the Nazi party.
- Sigismund Markus: a Jewish businessman in Danzig who owns the toy store where Oskar gets his tin drums.
- Maria Truczinski: Girl hired by Alfred to help run his store after Agnes’ death and with whom Oskar has his first sexual experience. She becomes pregnant and marries Alfred, but both Alfred and Oskar believe they are the father of Maria’s child.
- Bebra: Run the dwarf theater company that Oskar joins to escape Danzig.
- Roswitha Raguna: Bebra’s lover, then Oskar’s.
- “The Dusters”: Danzig street hedgehog gang, Oskar leads as “Jesus”.
- (Sister) Dorothea: A nurse from Düsseldorf and Oskar’s love after Maria rejects him.
- Egon Münzer (Klepp): Oskar’s friend. Self-proclaimed communist and jazz flutist.
- Gottfried Vittlar: Befriends and then testifies against Oskar in the ring finger case on Oskar’s order.
Grass was a social critic and activist throughout his literary career, often dealing with issues related to Germany’s role in World War II and the Holocaust.
He believed that Germany had not learned its lesson and that German citizens were apathetic about their responsibility for the rise of Nazism and the horrors of the Holocaust. These themes are developed in his novel, as is his belief that words are a form of healing.
In The Tin Drum there is a reflection not only on the German state of mind, but also on the possibility of art after the national trauma. Responding in part to Theodor Adorno, who in 1949 published an essay suggesting that poetry could not be written after Auschwitz, Grass attempted to respond to the great German critic with his own analysis. Drummer Oskar, partly allegorical and partly ironic, is the artist of Grass.