Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a writer. He has lived many lives in the past, in particular as the husbands or lovers of a series of cooks, whose lives mirror important points in human history. The relationships between the narrator and these women illustrate the relationship between the sexes, in which men strive for dominance but remain subject to the will and cooking skill of women. The narrator, in his present life, is the weak and philandering husband of the pregnant harridan Ilsebill. He attempts to gratify himself sexually with the members of the Feminist Revolutionary Tribunal and the last two cooks, Sibylle Miehlau and Maria Kucorra, but in actuality he is used by them.


Ilsebill, the narrator’s wife. She advances through nine months of pregnancy during the book, finally delivering a daughter near the conclusion. She is named Ilsebill for the wife in the Brothers Grimm tale “The Fisherman and His Wife.” The narrator’s wife, who like the fisherman’s wife always wants more, is an insatiable virago.

The Flounder

The Flounder, a seemingly omniscient godlike entity, actually a turbot with bony, pebblelike bumps. The Flounder allows himself to be caught by a fisherman in the neolithic period. He wishes to serve as a guide and adviser to weak males to enable them to overcome matriarchy and to develop their assertive, dominating, and culture-producing, if destructive, traits. The Flounder, who is released, can be summoned readily and repeatedly comes back to give the narrator, in his many existences as generalized “man,” advice on how to deal with women. Despairing of progressively impotent man as an agent of progress, the Flounder finally allows himself to be caught by three radical feminists, Sieglinde “Siggie” Hunyscha, Susanne “Maxie” Maxen, and Franziska “Frankie” Ludkowiak. Although he offers to serve as an adviser to women, they choose to place him on trial for his crimes against women. During the course of the trial before the Women’s Revolutionary Tribunal in Berlin, the story of the eleven cooks, embodying the history of male dominance and the hidden contributions of women, is told. The Flounder repents of his wrongdoing and agrees to serve as adviser to women. Although he is found guilty of crimes against women, he is, to the disgust of the Revolutionary Party, allowed to live. After being forced to witness a banquet in which fellow flounders are consumed, he is released into the Baltic Sea.


Awa, an enormously fat, three-breasted living Baltic fertility goddess from the Stone Age. She is the first cook. She and the women keep the men satisfied and subservient by suckling them. She forbids the narrator, then called Edek, to use her gift of fire to smelt metal as the Flounder had taught him or to count above 111, the number of her dimples. When she dies, Awa, as she had instructed, is stuffed, roasted, and eaten.


Wigga, the Iron Age cook. When she forbids a certain hallucinogen, dream wurzel, men lose their innocence. The unsuckled men become restive and resent the farming initiated by Wigga. She orders her people to stay close to the source of fish for her soups and not to follow the wandering Germanic hordes. Although she rails against the fire-eating Goths, she makes the men gather the iron pots that they discard when they move on. She dies of blood poisoning when she cuts herself on a rusty roasting spit left behind by the Goths.


Mestwina, a cook and priestess for the Pomeranian people living in the Wicker Bastion on Fisherman’s Island, later incorporated into Danzig. Through her cooking, she wins the heart of Bishop Adalbert of Prague, who had come to practice proselytizing on the Pomeranians before turning to the more difficult...

(The entire section is 1581 words.)

The Flounder The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The narrative stance and characterization of this book are quite clever. By claiming to have passed through so many lives, the narrator can not only write in the first person but also maintain an omniscient viewpoint. He has seen history not through the eyes of God but through a number of different characters. He has the best of both narrative worlds. By virtue of having lived so many lives, the narrator can also take on a variety of personalities. He is a simpering, young boy in one life and a brutal wife-beating husband in another. He moves like a specter across the spectrum of possible personalities, becoming one type then transforming into another. He is never constricted by his characters, for they change with the era in which they live and with their station in life. Some are bishops, others fishermen. All are shaped by the circumstances of their lives. In this way, the narrator can be both himself and any other man he chooses.

Similarly, the female characters vary greatly. Some are kind. Others are cruel. Still others show elements of both qualities. Even though there are probably thirty different women in this book (the vast majority of characters are women), Grass manages to draw a distinct personality for each one. None, not even the most minor of characters, seems like an archetype. All have their quirks, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.

With so many characters, Grass is able to look at women in many different stations and...

(The entire section is 473 words.)