Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Walter Matern

Walter Matern (VAHL-tehr MAH-tehrn), the stocky son of a miller. Walter, known as the “grinder” for constantly grinding his teeth, is the protector, friend, and blood brother to Eddi Amsel. Their lives, along with the changes in Germany, are traced from their boyhood in the mid-1920’s through the early post-World War II period. Walter is expelled from the Young Prussia Athletic Club for distributing Communist leaflets, and his career as an aspiring actor is cut short by his excessive drinking. He joins the brown-shirted Nazi Sturm Abteilung (SA) on the urging of Amsel, who wants a source of uniforms for scarecrows. Walter, however, eventually reports Amsel for making animated SA dummies. In times of exasperation or anger, Walter reviles his friend as “sheeny.” He and his fellow thugs beat Amsel, and Walter personally knocks out all of Amsel’s teeth. Walter is later kicked out of the SA and joins the army to escape punishment for his political opinions. He commands an antiaircraft unit in which Harry Liebenau serves, but eventually he is condemned to a penal battalion for anti-Nazi statements. Released from an English prison camp as an anti-Fascist, he eventually becomes a radio star because of the dynamism of his voice. Subjected to a brutal and accusatory review of his life on a live radio program directed by Harry, Walter in disgust decides to leave the capitalistic West. In Berlin, however, he meets Amsel, whom he does not at first recognize, and is taken on a tour of his fantastic scarecrow production center.

Eddi Amsel

Eddi Amsel, a short and corpulent boy with reddish-blond hair and an ample supply of freckles. Amsel, from a village near Danzig, has a marvelous voice, is a talented artist, and has an especially creative talent for making scarecrows. The son of a wealthy Jewish merchant and a German peasant, he inherits their money, much of which he invests in Switzerland. After the beating by the SA, Amsel is transformed as he lies in the snow: As it melts, his corpulence shrinks away. Thin and toothless, he leaves for Berlin, where he purchases gold replacements for his lost teeth. After the arrest of Jenny Brunies’ stepfather, Amsel, now known as Hermann Haseloff, returns to Danzig and takes his beloved Jenny back to Berlin, where she becomes the star of his ballet company. After the war, going by the name Goldmouth, he becomes a rich speculator and businessman. As Brauxel or Brauchsel, he purchases a mine, which is transformed into a production center for elaborate scarecrows, which embody the mechanical and spiritless character of West German...

(The entire section is 1100 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The relationship between Eddi Amsel and Walter Matern is at the center of Dog Years. Eddi is a gentle, brilliant, and creative person. Whatever anger he might feel is expressed through the creation of his artful scarecrows. He never fights others; on the contrary, he tries to ignore all expressions of hostility toward him. Evidently, Walter is impressed by this quality in Eddi, for he defends his schoolmate from the other boys who have beaten Eddi on numerous occasions. Yet, Walter is a crude character, incapable of reflecting on the way society inflicts cruelty on anyone it deems inferior. Walter shifts from being a Communist, to a Nazi, to a Catholic, without ever reflecting on the root causes of his restlessness. Yet the two boys have sworn a blood brotherhood and, after their long separation during the war years, Eddi reminds Walter of their bond.

Tulla Pokriefke is the malevolent force in Dog Years. She seems to hate Jenny Brunies for no reason at all. Tulla is sadistic and, for the sheer fun of it, enjoys making Jenny abase herself. She holds her cousin, Harry Liebenau, in thrall precisely because of her self-sufficiency and her effortless ability to order people around. She is Harry’s Hitler. If she has a redeeming quality, it is her candor. When she finds human bones near a concentration camp, she bluntly identifies them for what they are and does not try to ignore the obvious evil, as her fellow Germans do.

Jenny Brunies is the female counterpart of Eddi Amsel. Like Eddi, she grows up as a fat child, persecuted by the group. It seems improbable that she would become a ballerina, but some need to express herself is released as a result of Tulla’s persecution. Tulla’s behavior then changes when she sees that Jenny has found individuality. Tulla is no longer able to control Jenny.

Harry Liebenau is not a well-defined character—but that seems to be Günter Grass’s point exactly. Harry is an observer, a follower who is obsessed with his Tulla as the Germans were with their fuhrer. Harry seems incapable of thinking for himself. Instead, he writes “love letters” to Tulla, recalling all of her callous behavior and his inept efforts to please her and win her favor. He is pathetic.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Dog Years, returned to the enormous length and complexity of The Tin Drum, but abandoned Grass's use of a deformed character as...

(The entire section is 149 words.)