Critical Context

The Flounder is Grass’s most important work, and it represents a new height in the literature of postwar Germany. Two of Grass’s other novels, Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961) and Hundejahre (1963; Dog Years, 1965) were successful literary endeavors in a Germany that had focused its view on World War II. Both are written in a style which straddles realism and fantasy, and both deal with the war. The Flounder, however, was written in the late 1970’s and broke this fixation on World War II. This novel took on an even older war, the war between the sexes. Observing the growing feminist movement in Germany, Grass sought to grapple with the fundamental issues facing both genders. He was not content, however, to view these issues with the myopia common to most of his contemporaries. Instead, he wanted to go back to the root of the struggle, back to the dawn of history.

With this in mind, he delved into the history of his native northern Germany to show both the male and female perspectives through specific characters. This undertaking, to retell history through characters without rendering them mere archetypes, would be too ambitious for most writers. For Grass, it was clearly a success.