Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 1 Chapters 5 6 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 1, Chapters 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5: Glass, Glass, Little Glass

Oskar chooses to stop growing at age three and plans to injure himself in order to have a plausible rationale for his small stature as he ages. In that way, he reasons, adults will not resort to doctors and scientific explanations for his arrested development. So Oskar throws himself down the cellar stairs when Matzareth, busily cooking, neglects to close the cellar door. Agnes blames her husband for the near tragedy when Oskar is rescued, bleeding and covered with raspberry syrup. Recovering in the hospital, Oskar decides that drumming is the way he is going to communicate, and he plays his drum so long and hard that it disintegrates. His parents try to take it away without replacing it, and Oskar's piercing screams in protest shatter the glass face of a clock. Mama, in her son's defense, shouts, "Broken glass brings good luck."

Oskar employs his new strategy each time anyone tries to take his drum. He shatters all manner of available household items, and he invents new words—"screamshattered, singshattered, shardshattered," for his talent. Because he dislikes his gifts on his fourth birthday, he shatters the lights, plunging guests who had brought him "everything under the sun" into total darkness. When his grandmother brings candles, Oskar discovers nearly all the guests are engaged in sexual play. He imagines that his drumming "varnished over the kissing and sucking sounds produced" by the amorous group.

His fifth birthday coincides with the Stock Market crash of 1929. Oskar worries about his grandfather in America, while his mother worries about Oskar's lack of growth. The present-day Oskar, whose voice now "can't even budge a toothbrush glass," likes to think about the trajectory of his glass-shattering, from the early days when he shattered glass only to avoid conflict; to the middle period when he practiced his habit without any external pressures; and his later period, when he "sang glass" out of "pure playfulness."

Chapter 6: The Schedule

Oskar's friend Klepp again visits him at the asylum, and Oskar notes that Klepp is fond of schedules. This reminds him of his first school experience, a disaster. It begins because Oskar has to go to a new school after Stephan, his cousin, is bullied at their kindergarten for being Polish. Oskar's new teacher is obsessed with schedules and forces students to rattle off the subjects on her schedule. Oskar drums them, and the teacher tries to take away the drum. Of course, Oskar screams, but this time, the glass he shatters is in her spectacles. She puts on a new pair, tries to take the drum again, and he shatters the second pair of spectacles, causing cuts on her face. The school photographer still takes a photo of him for his first day of school, but it is his last, because Oskar never goes back to school.

Analysis

Oskar's choice to remain the size of a three-year-old advances the parallels to German behavior in the pre-war period. His guilt is that he was one of them: an ill-natured child who throws tantrums, resorts to glass-shattering violence, disparages the choices of others, and manipulates and harms them at will.

As Oskar reviews his history in these chapters, he reveals himself as a typical German citizen blind to the apathy and cruelty of which he and his peers were capable. He is, however, reopening painful old wounds, a first step toward recovery and redemption. His creation of new words hints at a promise of the recovery of an ethical position in language itself.

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