Critical Evaluation

Günter Grass’s iconoclastic novel The Tin Drum shook the moral complacency of the German people and forced them to acknowledge their responsibility for the triumph of Nazism. Earlier, Grass had won minor acclaim for his poetry, but in 1959 Group 47, a German association of young artists and writers, awarded him its prepublication cash prize for The Tin Drum. When the novel appeared, it caused one of the greatest uproars in the history of German literature. Translated into most major languages over the next few years, it won international critical acclaim. Grass himself instantly became the best-known and most controversial figure of postwar German literature.

In addition to Group 47’s prepublication prize, The Tin Drum won three major international literary awards. In 1965, while Grass was accepting the coveted George Büchner Prize, members of a youth organization in Düsseldorf publicly burned copies of The Tin Drum. Despite critical acclaim and many awards, Grass and The Tin Drum became the targets of more than forty lawsuits and innumerable denunciations in the letters-to-the editor columns of virtually every publication in Germany. People from all social strata in Germany accused Grass of pornography, blasphemy, sacrilege, slander, defamation, and other heinous crimes. The furor over The Tin Drum arose from one central theme, that Grass refused to exculpate himself or any other German from guilt for the Nazi regime. In his novel, Grass identifies Nazi affinities in most of the people and in all of the institutions of German society.

Critics have called Grass’s account of the Nazi era wildly satirical, wickedly humorous, and morally chilling. Grass presents a German religious institution only too willing to accommodate itself to Adolf Hitler’s regime. Some of his most damning barbs are directed at Grass’s own Catholicism, but Protestants are not spared their share of guilt. The picture of the acclaimed German educational institution presented in The Tin Drum suggests that its discipline and regimentation prepared the way admirably for Hitler and his movement. In Grass’s book, the German political tradition of authoritarianism and antiliberalism almost invited a Hitler to take power. Grass also showed how the Nazis capitalized on and institutionalized a widespread view of women that relegated them to a subordinate status in family relationships and the...

(The entire section is 1005 words.)