Günter Grass Analysis

Other Literary Forms

In addition to drama, Günter Grass is best known for his novels, shorter fiction, poetry, political essays and speeches (he is an active Socialist), and ballet libretti. His first novel, Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961), reflects its author’s concern with the rehabilitation of humanity in postwar Nazi Germany in particular and in a nearly absurd postwar society in general. Grass is also an artist, having published prints and sketches, some in conjunction with his literary works. In addition to his several volumes of political essays and other writings, Grass’s aesthetic writings include essays about poetry and the possibilities of literature after Auschwitz.


Günter Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, a distinction that many felt to be long overdue. Only two other Germans, Heinrich Böll and Thomas Mann, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the twentieth century. The Swedish Academy cited Grass’s “black fables” that “portray the forgotten face of history,” praising his talent for “reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers, and lies that people wanted to forget because they once had believed in them all.”

Grass’s involvement in and dedication to Social Democratic politics and the peace movement no doubt has much to do with the vitality and social preoccupations of his writing. His works not only record the personal and societal struggles of postwar, post-Nazi Germany but also grapple—at times comically and even grotesquely—with the orientation of the individual in such an absurd world. In turn, his writings (especially The Tin Drum), which have enjoyed international distribution, have provided their author with an international forum for his beliefs on a wide range of issues—political, environmental, nuclear, and more. Grass withdrew from the Social Democratic Party in 1992; he had already formally left the Catholic church in 1974.

In addition to the Nobel Prize in Literature, Grass is the recipient of numerous literary awards, among them the prestigious Gruppe 47 Award in 1958, the...

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Other literary forms

Although Günter Grass achieved fame and critical acclaim as a novelist, he has by no means limited his literary creativity to the genre of prose fiction. In fact, the author first attracted attention—albeit of a limited nature—as a playwright and a poet. In 1958, his one-act play in the absurdist vein Noch zehn Minuten bis Buffalo (Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo, 1967), was published (it was first staged in 1959), and in 1956, his first collection of poetry, Die Vorzüge der Windhühner (the advantages of wind-fowl), was published. There is no exact correspondence between the German editions of Grass’s plays and those in English translation. Six plays were collected in Theaterspiele (1970; pieces for the theater), including Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo, Hochwasser (pr. 1957; Flood, 1967), Onkel, Onkel (pr. 1958; Mister, Mister, 1967), and Die bösen Köche (pr., pb. 1961; The Wicked Cooks, 1967); the English versions of these plays were published in Four Plays (1967), whereas Die Plebejer proben den Aufstand (pr., pb. 1966; The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising, 1966) and Davor (pr., pb. 1969; Max, 1972) were published independently in English translations. Complete editions of Grass’s plays in the German original are available in Grass’s collected works (Werkausgabe, 1997).

Grass’s collected poems in Gesammelte Gedichte (1971) include the previously published volumes Die Vorzüge der Windhühner, Gleisdreieck (1960; rail interchange), and Ausgefragt (1967; New Poems, 1968). Selections from the first two collections are available in a bilingual edition under the title In the Egg, and Other Poems (1977); Mariazuehren,...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Günter Grass has long been acknowledged as a novelist of international stature—a rank he achieved with the publication of The Tin Drum, his first novel, the English version of which appeared in 1961 in Great Britain and two years later in the United States. Although Grass continued to publish at a fairly steady pace and to produce works of challenging complexity—notably The FlounderThe Tin Drum is his most widely acclaimed work. The film version of The Tin Drum, with its screenplay by Grass and director Volker Schlöndorff, won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and also received several other international prizes.

Grass is generally acknowledged as the “author who put postwar German literature back in the world market” (Newsweek, May 24, 1965). His fiction displays a virtuosity of language practically unparalleled in contemporary letters, and he has received numerous domestic (that is, German) as well as foreign literary awards, among them the prestigious prize of Gruppe 47 (1958). In fact, between 1958 and 2005 Grass received more than thirty major European and German literary prizes. The impressive string of the former includes France’s Foreign Book Prize (1962), Italy’s Mondello Prize (1977), the Viareggio-Versilia Prize (1978), and the Mayakovski Medal of the city of Gdask (1978), his former hometown, which also made him an honorary citizen (1993). Among the German awards...

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Discussion Topics

Many of Günter Grass’s novels contain autobiographical elements. In what ways do the narrators of The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years, The Flounder, Call of the Toad, and Crabwalk resemble Grass?

In his youth, Grass wanted to be a sculptor and painter. How do Grass’s artistic instincts control the structure of his books? Are his novels simply word paintings?

In what ways do Grass’s novels resemble novels by Franz Kafka and Theodor Fontane, two of his mentors in German literature?

Discuss the themes of hunger, guilt, and shame in The Tin Drum, The Flounder, Headbirths, Crabwalk, and Peeling the Onion.

Discuss Grass’s treatment of religion in The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years, and Crabwalk.

What is Grass’s view of women? Are they important characters in his novels? Which women in his novels are strong characters?

Does Grass’s view of the history and identity of the German people change from The Tin Drum to Crabwalk? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

Other literary forms

Günter Grass (gros), already attracting attention in Germany for his poetry, burst onto the worldwide literary scene in 1959 with his wartime fantasy novel, Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1962). He would develop a loyal following for his long fiction, which, like his poetry, juxtaposes startling imagery against passages of lyric beauty. Some of the better-known novels are Katz und Maus (1961; Cat and Mouse, 1963), Hundejahre (1963; Dog Years, 1965), Der Butt (1977; The Flounder, 1978), Die Rättin (1986; The Rat, 1987), and Mein Jahrhundert (1999; My Century, 1999). In the 1960’s, Grass added drama to his repertoire...

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Günter Grass first earned recognition for his poetry, winning a minor prize in 1955. This honor paled in comparison to the critical acclaim that greeted his initial novel, The Tin Drum, which was showered with awards and became a best seller. Grass collaborated on the screenplay for the 1979 film version, which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Most of Grass’s literary awards are for works in genres other than poetry. He has garnered top literary awards and honors, including the Preis der Gruppe 47 (1958), the Literature Award of the Association of German Critics (1960), France’s Foreign Book Prize (1962), the Georg Büchner Award (1965), the Fontane Prize (1968), the Carl von Ossietzky Medal of...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Brady, Philip, et al., eds. Günter Grass’s “Der Butt”: Sexual Politics and the Male Myth of History. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1990. Extremely useful collection of critical essays which focus on the representation of sexuality, male-female conflicts, and Grass’s use of history in his controversial novel The Flounder. Individual essays represent a wide range of critical approaches and viewpoints. Some authors discuss the question of Grass’s presentation of women characters, which has caused great controversy in American criticism of the author.

Cunliffe, W. Gordon. Günter Grass. New York: Twayne, 1969....

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