Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Eberhard Starusch

Eberhard Starusch (AY-behr-hahrt SHTAH-rewsh), nicknamed Hardy. He is the grown-up Störtebeker, a character from The Tin Drum (1961) who had been the wartime leader of a Danzig youth gang, the Dusters. Starusch, at the time of this story, is a forty-year-old teacher of German and history. Despite the aggressive look of his forcefully protruding chin, Starusch, who describes himself as a liberal Marxist, is inclined to compromise. His life is boring and uncommitted. He even avoids the painful consequences of dental work through frequent doses of anesthetic. While having bridgework done, he daydreams about his life and carries on a discussion with his dentist. Starusch claims to have been an engineer, who, when rejected by his fiancée, returned to school with money she gave him in compensation and earned a teacher’s certificate. He discusses with the dentist his attempt to dissuade his student, Philipp Scherbaum, from acting on his values in a provocative way.

The dentist

The dentist, a rationalist disciple of the Stoic Seneca who treats and counsels both Starusch and Philipp Scherbaum. He is a staunch supporter of science and reality. The anesthetizing television, which he uses to distract his patients, is the medium that prompts Starusch’s confused outpouring of present predicament, memory, and fantasy.

Philipp “Flip” Scherbaum

Philipp “Flip” Scherbaum (SHEHR-bowm), Starusch’s favorite student, a talented seventeen-year-old who is deeply concerned about acting in response to his values. An uncompromising idealist, Philipp is appalled by the napalming of civilians in Vietnam and decides to douse his dachshund, Max, with gasoline and to set him on fire in front of Hotel Kempinski’s café, which would be packed with cake-eating women. Starusch employs dialogue to delay and eventually to undermine Philipp’s action. Philipp begins to doubt...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Eberhard Starusch shares many biographical traits with the author, including date and place of birth, having experienced wartime captivity by the Americans, and an extended residence in the Rhineland following his release and before settling in West Berlin. More important, however, Starusch represents the political philosophy which Grass evolved in the late 1960’s, an extremely turbulent period in German politics. It is a philosophy of skepticism, commitment to the values of the Enlightenment, and such profound distrust of ideological systems and pat answers that, at least in Starusch’s case, it leads to a large measure of self-doubt and tends to express itself through an equivocating on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand approach. Starusch recognizes that nothing is ever simple or unambiguous, that contradiction and paradox are inescapable and that progress must be painfully slow. Nevertheless, the former radical gang leader whom experience has transformed into a moderate, reflective, middle-aged schoolteacher “in spite of everything regards himself as progressive.”

If Starusch is plagued by doubts about the correctness of his moderately liberal views, the dentist represents complete faith in the power of reason, science, and technology to ameliorate, if not completely eliminate, man’s pain. He has no patience with action lacking a rational basis, calling it “active stupidity” and comparing it with “the precipitate extraction of teeth, this mania for creating gaps that no longer hurt.” Progress may come only at a snail’s pace, but it is inevitable if pursued rationally. Thus, he supports the more mature Starusch (even as he works on his “wisdom” teeth) in the latter’s resolve to dissuade Scherbaum from his plan.

On the other end of the political spectrum from the dentist is Vero Lewand....

(The entire section is 751 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hayman, Ronald. Günter Grass, 1985.

Hollington, Michael. Günter Grass: The Writer in a Pluralist Society, 1980.

Lawson, Richard H. Günter Grass, 1984.

Miles, Keith. Günter Grass, 1975.

Thomas, Noel. The Narrative Works of Günter Grass: A Critical Interpretation, 1982.