In Headbirths, Grass becomes the narrator of his own novel, a technique that he used in From the Diary of a Snail. Though not a novel in the traditional sense, Headbirths presents the story of a German couple, Harm and Dörte Peters, who, even as they travel through Asia, are unable to get away from the political upheavals at home and who are unable to decide whether to have a baby of their own. This decision is the source of the title: The only births are “head births,” and at this rate, writes Grass, the German race will die out. Grass also ponders a world populated with as many Germans as there are Chinese, for example, and at the end of the novel Grass puts Harm and Dörte in their old Volkswagen in the midst of a huge crowd of Turkish, Indian, Chinese, and African children, still unable to decide on a child of their own.
Headbirths explores one of Grass’s major interests: the making of art and the relationship of artist, art, and audience. In this novel, Grass writes that Harm and Dörte disagree with him on certain issues, so that Grass is “forced” to change his original ideas. His other major interest, politics, also is an integral part of this book. Grass presents not only his own political views but also Harm and Dörte arguments about the upcoming political election at home. Sometimes Grass and Dörte “agree” with each other, and Grass writes that he and Dörte attend press conferences together, a plot point that blurs the line between art and reality. Though Grass actually did travel to Asia, Headbirths is more about his political and theoretical ruminations than about the actual travels. Harm and Dörte, though sometimes shown visiting fertility temples, or indirectly presented arguing about politics or the “Yes-to-baby/No-to-baby” question, are never fully developed as characters. Rather, they serve as a springboard for Grass to present his political views and concerns.