The Tin Drum

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

From earliest infancy, the unnaturally precocious Oskar Matzerath is so appalled by the cruel absurdities of life that he refuses to grow beyond the age of three. Choosing the perspective of infantile curiosity, he instead proceeds to unmask the world of the adults around him: the small-mindedness of his German father, the sensuality and guilt of his mother, and the weakness of her ineffectual Polish lover. Compensating for his own vulnerability with sly aggressiveness, Oskar becomes at least partially responsible for their unhappy fates.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Oskar’s hometown of Danzig (now Gdansk) was precariously perched between German and Polish spheres of influence. His deteriorating family life represents, therefore, not only a private tragedy but also the historical collapse of Danzig’s German-Polish symbiosis under the impact of Nazism and the horrors of war. An amoral will to live makes Oskar survive the catastrophe by alternately practicing strategies of accommodation and rebelliousness.

At the end of the war, possibilities of a new beginning in West Germany entice him to grow again. As these hopes are quickly crushed, his body revolts by developing a hump. Infantile desires and fears reassert themselves, and Oskar finally agrees to be committed to a mental institution.

Though the hero’s childish fascination with what is revolting, perverse, and sacrilegious scandalized many readers, Grass’s first novel was immediately recognized as a major event...

(The entire section is 618 words.)