Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 1 Chapters 11 12 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 1, Chapters 11–12 | Summary



Chapter 11: No Miracle

The chapter opens with Oskar wishing his keeper, Bruno, had a larger peephole to observe him more directly.

Oskar's mother takes him to confession with her, and he questions his mother's piety as he thinks of her lust and the stolen jewelry she has accepted.

One day in church, Oskar notes that a plaster Jesus in church looks like Jan, while the baby Jesus in a statue of the Virgin Mary and child looks like himself. He touches the baby statue's penis, feeling a sexual stirring. Back in church with his mother on Monday of Holy Week, he decides that if Jesus plays his drum, then he'll believe in him. He puts his drumsticks in the baby Jesus's hands and puts his drum near the statue as well, but nothing happens. The priest sees what Oskar is doing and hits him. Oskar decides that this is the end of his belief in Jesus, since no miracle happened here. He stops short, however, of shattering the windows in the church with his voice because the stained glass is still beautiful, although the church has lost him as a customer.

Chapter 12: Good Friday Fare

Oskar's family goes to the beach on Good Friday, and they see a docker hauling in his catch. They watch him haul in the rope, curious to see what he has caught. What comes up is a surprise: there is a horse's head on the rope, and it is swarming with eels. The fisherman removes the eels and puts them into a bag of salt to remove the slime. The docker says the eels were fat after the battle of Skagerrak. This reminds present-day Oskar of a story told to him by a doctor at the mental hospital about a married woman who attempted to satisfy herself with a live eel. She was bitten and could never have children after that.

Agnes is so disgusted by the scene that she begins to vomit and can't stop. Matzerath decides despite, or perhaps because of, Agnes's nausea and horror, he will buy some of the eels for supper. When they get home, he makes eel soup, while Agnes continues to feel ill and says she will not eat the soup. Jan tries to calm her down, and Oskar notices that he is fondling Agnes. Oskar decides to hide in the bedroom from the chaos and the sexual contact going on in front of him, and he climbs into the wardrobe. Inside, subjected to the sounds of Agnes and Jan's lovemaking, Oskar recalls his attraction to Sister Inge, the nurse who tended him during his regular physical exams when he was younger. The three adults play a game of skat afterwards.


That Oskar wishes Bruno could see more of him through the door suggests that Bruno then might serve as Oskar's confessor. Oskar further sorts love, lust, and passion during Easter week, 1937—the year before Germany invades Austria and all hell breaks loose in Europe. He thinks about his mother's self-indulgent nature: her sexual escapades and love of sweets, her inability to be satisfied, and her despair over not having a "normal" son.

He recognizes the Church's lasting influence in his life, and in his curious attempt to masturbate the statue of the baby Jesus, readers see his conflation of body and spirit. Both his Catholicism and his attempts at human understanding are eroticized. Readers also begin to see his sexual coming of age as the catalyst for his understanding. His inability to shatter the stained glass windows demonstrates his movement away from rage and impulse to a reasoned testing of his environment.

Good Friday is the day that Jesus was killed—and in contemporary practice, preparation for Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection. This day is topsy-turvy in the novel. The events of the day leave Agnes physically ill and sick in spirit. The image of the horse head and eels dominates. Agnes cannot contain her nausea at the sight. The 1916 Battle of Skagerrak, when the eels got fat, refers to the definitive sea battle of World War I in which the British navy decimated the German fleet and asserted British naval superiority for the duration. The eels grew fat eating the bodies of dead Germans. The second story, about the woman and the eel, also reflects on Agnes's situation.

Once again, Oskar's developing sexuality is in evidence in his reminiscence about Sister Inge, but this time his reverie is interrupted by the image of the docker, the horse's head, and the eels. For him, erotic activity is mingled with both disgust and attraction.

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