The Tin Drum  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Google
Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Wiki Commons
Wikiquote
Wikisource
YouTube
Shop


Featured:
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Enlarge
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) is a 1959 novel by Günter Grass. The novel is the first book of Grass's Danzig Trilogy. It was adapted into a 1979 film, which won both the Palme d'Or, in the same year, and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film the following year.

Contents

Plot summary

The story revolves around the life of Oskar Matzerath, as narrated by himself when confined in a mental hospital during the years 1952–1954. Born in 1924 in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland), with an adult's capacity for thought and perception, he decides never to grow up when he hears his father declare that he would become a grocer. Gifted with a piercing shriek that can shatter glass or be used as a weapon, Oskar declares himself to be one of those "clairaudient infants", whose "spiritual development is complete at birth and only needs to affirm itself". He retains the stature of a child while living through the beginning of World War II, several love affairs, and the world of postwar Europe. Through all this, a toy tin drum, the first of which he received as a present on his third birthday, followed by many replacement drums each time he wears one out from over-vigorous drumming, remains his treasured possession; he is willing to commit violence to retain it.

Oskar considers himself to have two "presumptive fathers"—his mother's husband Alfred Matzerath, a member of the Nazi Party, and her 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. Oskar's mother having died, Alfred marries Maria, a woman who is secretly Oskar's first mistress. After marrying Alfred, Maria gives birth to Oskar's possible son, Kurt. But Oskar is disappointed to find that the baby persists in growing up, and will not join him in ceasing to grow at the age of three.

During the war, Oskar joins a troupe of performing dwarfs who entertain the German troops at the front line. But when his second love, the diminutive Roswitha, is killed by Allied troops in the invasion of Normandy, Oskar returns to his family in Danzig where he becomes the leader of a criminal youth gang (akin to the Edelweiss Pirates). The Russian army soon captures Danzig, and Alfred is shot by invading troops after he goes into seizures while swallowing his party pin to avoid being revealed as a Nazi.

After the war, Oskar, his widowed stepmother and their son have to leave the now Polish city of Danzig and move to Düsseldorf, where he models in the nude with Ulla and works engraving tombstones. Oskar decides to live apart from Maria and her son Kurt after mounting tensions. He decides on a flat owned by the Zeidlers. Upon moving in, he falls in love with Sister Dorothea, a neighbor, but he later fails to seduce her. During an encounter with Klepp, Klepp asks Oskar how he has an authority over the judgement of music. Oskar, willing to prove himself once and for all to Klepp, a fellow musician, picks up his drum and sticks despite his vow to never play again after Alfred's death and plays a measure on his drum. The ensuing events lead Klepp, Oskar, and Scholle, a guitarist, to form the Rhine River Three jazz band. They are discovered by Mr. Schmuh, who invites them to play at the Onion Cellar club. After a virtuoso performance, a record company talent seeker discovers Oskar the jazz drummer and offers a contract. Oskar soon achieves fame and riches. One day while walking through a field he finds a severed finger: the ring finger of Sister Dorothea, who has been murdered. He then meets and befriends Vittlar. Oskar allows himself to be falsely convicted of the murder and is confined to an insane asylum, where he writes his memoirs.

Style

Oskar Matzerath is an unreliable narrator, as his sanity, or insanity, never becomes clear. He tells the tale in first person, though he occasionally diverts to third person, sometimes within the same sentence. As an unreliable narrator, he may contradict himself within his autobiography, as with his varying accounts of, but not exclusively, the Defense of the Polish Post Office, his grandfather Koljaiczek's fate, his paternal status over Kurt, Maria's son, and many others.

The novel is strongly political in nature, although it goes beyond a political novel in the writing's stylistic plurality. There are elements of allegory, myth and legend, placing it in the genre of magic realism.

The Tin Drum has religious overtones, both Jewish and Christian. Oskar holds conversations with both Jesus and Satan throughout the book. His gang members call him "Jesus", then he refers to himself and his penis as "Satan" later in the book.

Themes

Art versus war

art and war

World War II is compared with Oskar's art and music. The implied statement is that art has the ability to defeat war and hatred. Oskar escapes fighting through his musical talent. In chapter nine: The Rostrum, Oskar manages to disrupt the Nazi rally by playing his drums. Oskar plays a rhythm which is more complex and sensual than the march step of the rally. Despite his disruption of the activities of the Nazi party, the power of his music remains ambiguous. It seems that the music of the drum is simply disruptive, and not purely a moral force aligned against the Nazis. This is especially evident in another component of Oskar's music, his voice. As a substitution for singing, Oskar's voice is a terrible scream which exerts incredible power. Oskar's voice has the power to break glass, which he uses as the leader of a gang of criminals to rob stores by breaking their front windows. Grass's magical poetic imagery subtly aligns with political/ cultural events, and the reader realizes that Oskar is somehow an embodiment of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass which signaled the unmasked aggression of the Nazi Party. Ultimately Oskar remains a complex, magically symbolic character, embodying both the wish to dismantle the emergent Nazi party as well as the aggression of the party itself. Grass beautifully elucidates the paradox and schizophrenia of post war German consciousness.

Horrors of the Nazi regime

The Tin Drum covers the period from the 1920s through the 1950s and ranges from Danzig to Cologne, Paris and Normandy. Grass describes the actions of the Nazi regime from Kristallnacht to the execution of the survivors of the Polish Post Office.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Tin Drum" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools