Dog Years Critical Context
by Gunter Grass

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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Dog Years is part of Günter Grass’s Danziger Trilogie (1980; Danzig trilogy). Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961) and Katz und Maus (1961; Cat and Mouse, 1963), the two novels that precede Dog Years, share the same three-part structure. Twentieth century German history is divided into three periods: prewar, war, and postwar. In each novel, Grass takes a very careful historical approach which attempts to explain the seeds of Nazism. He demonstrates that many of the evils of Nazism have yet to be addressed because of the amnesia of the German people who refuse to shoulder the burden of the evil done in their name.

Dog Years is the most sophisticated novel in the trilogy because of its employment of three very different narrators: the inventive and oblique Eddi Amsel, the passive Harry Liebenau, and the aggressive but largely unconscious Walter Matern. Each narrator presents a distinct frame of reference through which many of the same historical events are viewed. Thus, Grass evokes the way history is actually experienced by different personalities.

Dog Years is also the most explicitly political novel in Grass’s trilogy. Nazi ideology, German philosophy and history, and German political figures are treated more directly than in the other novels. Dog Years engages in a powerful attack on pernicious political ideas. If the novel seems heavy with Grass’s diatribes against these ideas, his profound grasp of history and human character ultimately convinces the reader of the correctness of his vision.