Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 1 Chapters 13 14 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 1, Chapters 13–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13: Tapering toward the Foot

Agnes begins eating fish obsessively, so much that she throws up every time she eats it. Even then, she goes back for more. Matzerath is horrified and tries to get her to stop, but she just gets worse, even saving fish oil from sardine cans for several days and then drinking the oil. She becomes so sick she has to go to the hospital, and it becomes clear that she is pregnant.

Matzerath wants her to keep the baby and even says that it doesn't matter who the baby's father is; he knows Agnes and Jan have been sleeping together. But Agnes seems determined to harm herself and she ends up dying in the hospital, poisoned by the fish she has eaten. At the funeral, Oskar notices that her coffin is a shape he considers to be beautiful and perfect for the human form, tapering toward the foot just as his mother's body does. He wonders if Agnes killed herself as a way out of her three-way relationship that would put the blame for her death on Matzerath, for making her eat eels in the first place.

Markus, the toy seller, comes to the funeral, but the rest of the funeral crowd push him out, an act that Oskar doesn't understand. When everyone goes home and they start a game of skat, the absence of his mother hits Oskar hard, and he hides under his grandmother's skirts, realizing there is no one there to protect him now.

Chapter 14: Herbert Truczinski's Back

The chapter opens with Oskar missing his mother and blaming himself for her death; he is almost 14. He meets Bebra and "a dainty southern beauty," Roswitha, another dwarf. Bebra absolves him of guilt in Agnes's death. Oskar sings a heart-shaped opening in a glass and inscribes it for Roswitha.

Oskar meets Meyn, a drunk trumpeter who "could still play with amazing musical feeling and bring joy" to Oskar's drum. He also becomes friends with Mother Truczinski's son, Herbert, a waiter who breaks up fights at the restaurant where he works. As a result of breaking up so many fights, he has been attacked by a number of people and has scars from those attacks all over his back. Each scar has a story.

Oskar's friendship with Herbert Truczinski opens him to conversations about ethnic rivalry and ethnic hatred, the causes for the fights Herbert must break up. In one such fight, Herbert kills a man in self-defense. Although acquitted of the crime, Herbert's remorse and despair cause him to seek other work.

Analysis

These chapters are about guilt as well as the nausea and remorse that accompany it. Skat is the elixir of denial. The pattern in many chapters is a transgression followed by a game of cards in which the triumvirate is reconvened in peace. This, according to Oskar, is the order of the culture: decadence and blasphemy followed by denial. However, his mother is missing from the card game now, bringing her absence home.

Oskar reflects that perhaps Agnes has killed herself as a way to revenge herself against Matzerath for his cruelty by eating the very thing he tried to force her to eat when she was nauseated. She is succumbing to a pregnancy-related craving, and she is also trying to kill the baby inside her as well as herself, perhaps hoping to end the triangle she has formed with Jan and Matzerath. It has become clear to her that this three-way relationship is getting more complicated and difficult to maintain.

Love and death are both chaotic for Oskar in Chapter 13, but the idea of a perfect form seems to offer him solace. He sees beauty and order in the symmetry between the human form and the coffin.

The lessons Oskar learns from the drunken trumpeter and from Herbert are about "true feeling." In Herbert's case, Oskar sees that a man who suffers from acts of empathy only suffers more when his best impulses result in another's death. There are not necessarily rewards for goodness or doing the right thing, although suffering seems to be a precondition for true feeling. It is no surprise that Oskar learns this lesson as he mourns his mother.

Herbert's friendship and hearing the stories of Herbert's encounters with violent men help take Oskar's mind off his mother. Herbert seems to enjoy breaking up the fights, but once he realizes he has killed a man, the knowledge is too much for him. He is horrified and disgusted with himself for taking a life, a rare example of respect for human life in an otherwise uncaring society. This awareness comes from a character who experiences more direct violence than any of the other characters. The people who don't experience direct violence are clueless; they watch the people around them get hurt without doing anything to stop it. In fact, the removal of Markus, who is Jewish, from the funeral in the previous chapter foreshadows the building anti-Jewish sentiment in Danzig that will erupt in violence in the next chapters.

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