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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

The themes of Crabwalk by Gunter Grass include history, cycles, and responsibility. He illustrates these themes by discussing the sinking of a ship, the lives of several of the survivors, and the continuing obsession of certain communities with Nazi ideals long after the end of World War 2.

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History is the major underlying theme in Grass's novel. The main character, Paul, is encouraged by his mother to write about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that was brought down by a Soviet sub. Thousands died; it was a refugee ship. He hesitates to write about it until he finds out that neo-Nazis in 1996 are still revering Gustloff and the ship named after him as martyrs.

Grass shows how history repeats itself. Konrad, Paul's son, is a supporter of neo-Nazi ideals online using the persona of Wilhelm Gustloff. He argues with a boy who uses the identity of David Frankenfurter, the man who killed Gustloff in 1936. They argue over whether the sinking of the ship was justified. Paul traces the history of the Gustloff, the ship, his mother, and family as he works on writing about the disaster and what it caused.

Another theme is cycles. Things happen in certain ways over and over unless something changes. A ship is brought down in 1945 that was named after a man who died in 1936. Both are symbolic to the Nazis. In 1996, neo-Nazi communities revere both the ship and the man as well—they're still symbols for that community to rally behind. Another example of cycles is that Frankenfurter killed Gustloff in 1936 and turned himself into the police, claiming that he shot Gustloff because he...

(The entire section contains 426 words.)

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