Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Danzig or Gdansk (DAN-zik; GEH-danshk). Major Polish port on the Baltic Sea that has a long and colorful history dating from the tenth century. At times through the ages Germany controlled the city, and it was called Danzig. During other periods it was a city-state known as Gdansk. In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and seized Gdansk, its name was again changed to Danzig. After World War II it became a part of Poland and was again called Gdansk, which has continued to be its name.

Günter Grass was born and grew up in this city, where his parents owned a grocery store. The opening section of The Tin Drum outwardly recalls Grass’s early years through the voice of his fictional narrator, Oskar Matzerath. Like Grass, Oskar was born in the 1930’s. His parents also operate a small grocery store, and much of the first part of the novel takes place in the shop and the family’s adjacent living quarters. Oskar succeeds in creating the ambience of a family-run store, bringing the customers to life, as well as making the goods, their texture and smells, tangible. He fully captures the colorful port city with its ancient buildings, narrow streets, and cramped quarters, along with its waterfront and beach areas. He also recounts the lives of his grandparents, who lived on a farm in the Polish province of Kashubia, a rural area that he describes in a distinctive manner.

Like his fictional Oskar, Grass lived through the German invasion of the city in 1939 and its aftermath. These events are turned into a vivid piece of fiction that depicts how the presence of the German occupation force dramatically alters the city’s atmosphere. Although Grass certainly drew on his early years to give this part of the novel its rich texture and realistic tone, the narrative itself undermines the authenticity of its setting. Places and objects take on a significance in the novel far removed from reality, as Grass converts ordinary surroundings and objects into extended...

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although Grass is renowned for his linguistic playfulness and his careful avoidance of simplicities of theme, W. Gordon Cunliffe points out...

(The entire section is 176 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Despite Grass's assertions that his novels have no specific meanings, it is obvious that his social concerns and themes are inextricably...

(The entire section is 451 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Besides the previously mentioned affinities of the works of Melville, Joyce, Faulkner, and Pavese, critics have also pointed to the...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Grass followed The Tin Drum with Cat and Mouse (1963; Katz und Maus, 1961), and Dog Years (1965; Hundejahre, 1963), and...

(The entire section is 184 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A West German film production of Cat and Mouse was released in 1969, starring Lars and Peter Brandt, the sons of ex-chancellor Willy...

(The entire section is 108 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hatfield, Henry. “Günter Grass: The Artist as Satirist.” In The Contemporary Novel in German: A Symposium, edited by Robert R. Heitner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967. A paean of praise to Grass and The Tin Drum. Explains the satirical intent of many passages in the novel that are obscure to readers not intimately familiar with German history and the German language.

Hollington, Michael. Günter Grass: The Writer in a Pluralist Society. London: Marion Boyars, 1980. Although Hollington devotes only one chapter to The Tin Drum, references to the novel permeate the entire book. Hollington credits Grass with forcing Germans to look candidly at the Nazi era and with inspiring a younger generation to fight against the complacency of their elders.

Maurer, Robert. “The End of Innocence: Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum.” In Critical Essays on Günter Grass, edited by Patrick O’Neill. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. A detailed interpretation of Grass’s novel but with some questionable conclusions. The major value of the article is that it delineates the many literary influences, ranging from Voltaire to Thomas Mann, that are manifest in The Tin Drum.

Miles, Keith. Günter Grass. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1975. Although only chapter 2 deals exclusively with The Tin Drum, readers will learn much about the novel and about its impact in the introduction and in the other seven chapters. Miles considers Grass to be Germany’s and perhaps the world’s greatest living novelist. His interpretations of and insights into The Tin Drum are perceptive and very useful to the reader trying to understand Grass’s often cryptic prose.

Tank, Kurt Lothar. Günter Grass. Translated by John Conway. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1969. Contains a short biography of Grass and considerable analysis of Grass’s early works, most especially The Tin Drum. The analysis might be difficult for readers not acquainted with German literature and the argot of literary criticism.