Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 1 Chapters 7 8 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 1, Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: Rasputin and the ABCs

Oskar realizes that he has to learn to read, and he enlists Frau Greff, the frustrated wife of the homosexual scoutmaster, to teach him. Frau Greff has a copy of works by mystic Grigori Rasputin, a political opportunist and seducer of women, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a distinguished man of letters and Romantic sentimentalist. Oskar loves both works but pretends he doesn't really understand what Frau Greff is talking about and only wants to hear her read. He tears pages out of the books, one by one, crumpling them up into little balls. Oskar secretly stashes the crumpled pages in his shirt and flattens them later, collecting up in the attic an entire book for each writer. It amuses Oskar that Rasputin, in particular, sends Frau Greff and his mother into an orgiastic swoon.

Chapter 8: Long-Distance Song Effects from the Stockturm

Oskar relates his encounters with the children in his neighborhood, whom he calls "little cannibals." One day they "make soup" in the courtyard out of spit, pulverized brick, frogs, and urine. Susi Kater, one of the children, says, "He's going to rat on us, look at him run!" He runs up to the attic, but the children follow him, and Susi makes him drink the soup. He finds himself wishing he could shatter glass at long distances.

He and his mother go to Markus's toy shop every day, and Agnes has Markus look after Oskar while she does an errand. She is really meeting Jan to make love and then have coffee. Oskar follows her and, along the way, ends up "singshattering" the windows of the Stadt-Theater just because he can. When he finds his mother back at the toy shop, Markus is on his knees begging Agnes to leave Jan because he is Polish, and it is better to "bet on a German." Markus is in love with Agnes, and when Oskar walks into the shop, Markus tells Agnes that he can give her and Oskar a good life in London. Agnes refuses because she can't leave Jan. Oskar mourns the loss of as he reminisces: "I look for the land of the Poles that is lost to the Germans."

Analysis

The Tin Drum is a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story), a study of the spiritual and emotional development of Oskar Matzerath. Each chapter in Book 1 demonstrates some aspect of Oskar's character and charts his growth as he moves from instinctual complaint and rage to control over his given talents. In Chapter 7 he is drawn to aspects of two writers whose works represent such different notions of manhood that their juxtaposition is comical. Rasputin was a Russian monk known for his ability to heal people and for his sexual adventures. A close adviser to Alexandra, Russia's last Tsarina, in the early 1900s, Rasputin was assassinated in 1916; it took poison, multiple gunshots, and drowning to finally kill him. Oskar's mother and Gretchen are both enraptured by the legends of Rasputin's famous gaze, his ability to woo women, and his descriptions of orgies.

On the other side of the spectrum, Goethe is the author of the verse play Faust, among other works. Admired by Nazi cultural authorities, he was a prolific writer and versed in the law, the sciences, and philosophy. His romantic stories mirrored his own romantic life, which involved one failed desperate love affair after another, as well as short marriages. In his admiration for the mysterious, exploitative Rasputin and the romantic Goethe, Oskar shows the power of books to influence development. He is becoming fascinated both with obsessive love and with sexual control of others.

Oskar's manipulative abilities are once again on display, and he is becoming more devious as his awe at his own power grows. In Chapter 8 he is bullied and then shatters glass just for fun. Oskar is both weak and powerful, unabashedly German: he wants to be better than everyone else, but he is also capable of great destruction.

At the same time, Oskar's memory of interrupting Markus's proposal makes him sad; he mourns the loss of Poland and tries to drum the country back to life. His affectless behavior is not narcissism, but denial, just as he chooses to drum rather than to speak. He is, in fact, slowly becoming more human chapter by chapter.

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