Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Harry Liebenau

Harry Liebenau, the narrator, a writer employed by video producer Oskar Matzerath. Liebenau, obviously representing the author himself, is a writer from Danzig who was a character in Grass’s Dog Years (1963).

Oskar Matzerath

Oskar Matzerath (MAH-tseh-raht), a three-foot-tall, humpbacked drummer who also appeared in Grass’s The Tin Drum (1959). He is now a prosperous, bald, sixty-year-old video producer who wears too many rings and dresses in suits with large checks. Oskar agrees to the narrator’s suggestion to produce a film that would utilize a fairy tale motif to depict the unwillingness of the government to confront the destruction of Germany’s forests by acid rain. As the production goes forward, Oskar is driven to Poland in his Mercedes to attend the 107th birthday celebration of his grandmother, Anna Koljaiczek. His surprise gift to her is a video produced by his company, which had foreseen and recorded in advance everything that would happen at the birthday celebration. In the She-rat’s version of events, the video predicts the destruction of humanity in the midst of the party. Oskar’s grandmother survives for a while after the holocaust, but, after her death, she and a desiccated Oskar become objects of worship for the rats. In the narrator’s alternate version of events, the nuclear holocaust does not occur and Oskar, though afflicted with an enlarged prostate, survives to celebrate his sixtieth birthday and learn of his grandmother’s death.

The Rat

The Rat, a gray-brown female rat, which the narrator receives as a Christmas present. The She-rat invades the narrator’s dreams in a vision of the nuclear destruction of humanity and its...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Oskar Matzerath-Bronski is Grass’s most famous character. In The Tin Drum, Oskar is both the victim and the documenter of the evil principle under Adolf Hitler, personified in the person of the Black Cook. He is someone who reported on the era as it wrote its awful history on the pages of his own life. In The Tin Drum, he is always at crucial places at crucial times: He witnesses the first shots of World War II in the attack on the Polish post office in Danzig in 1939 and the first shots of the invasion at Normandy in 1944. His return in the present as a clairvoyant harbinger of World War III suggests that the situation in the world is again in crisis, again teetering on the brink of destruction.

Grass’s female rat, like the fish in The Flounder, may appear to be less a character in the traditional sense than a convenient zoomorphic platform standing outside the human race, existing outside human time, from which Grass lectures humankind about its foibles. Yet she and the flounder really are interesting characters in their own right. They know much, but they are not omniscient, and they often distort the story to make themselves look more important. They are interesting manifestations of the author’s own personality, microcosmic reductions of typical human beings.

The narrator, too, first appears to be only a slightly fictionalized Günter Grass. Yet he is more than that, as he suggests when he refers to himself as a helpless human god to the rats. Powerless to help the rats from his orbit in space, he can only observe their efforts to rid their microcosm of evil: nationalism, religious bigotry, weapons of war, and the belligerent monstrosities represented by the rat-humans.

He learns that unlike the humans and their monstrosities, however, the rats survive because they have learned how to change and have learned how to cooperate. When he awakens from his nightmare, he realizes that even if a god in space is powerless to help humanity, humanity can help itself. Now the narrator, having learned from the rats in his microcosmic dream, is ready to begin.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A first-person narrator is a principal persona in a Grass fiction, but in no major work before The Rat has the authorial Grass been so...

(The entire section is 296 words.)