Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 1 Chapters 9 10 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 1, Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9: The Grandstand

This section begins with a joke. Oskar "singshatters" the windows in the lobby of the State Theater: his "first contact with the dramatic arts," he tells us, an encounter he "sought and found." He attends a performance of Tom Thumb with his mother. Both cry as Tom overcomes odds and leaves home.

Agnes, Jan, and Oskar go to the beach on a sunny Sunday. Oskar is not provided with a bathing suit. He self-consciously covers his nudity with the drum and rests prone in the sand for most of the day. One night at an outdoor opera, Oskar shatters the spotlight when the Wagnerian soprano cries "Woe is me." He believes he has rescued her from the blinding light.

At the circus Oskar meets the aging Bebra, a little person like himself, who kisses Oskar on the forehead. Oskar cherishes the kiss as he recalls that the era of "torchlit parades" and "grandstand assemblies" was approaching: that is, prejudice and worse against anyone who is not of pure Aryan blood and physically perfect.

After refusing Marcus's advances, Agnes has stayed with Matzerath, who is becoming a party loyalist, and she sees less of Jan. During the summer of 1934, Oskar loses interest in the party, claiming it is not because of the Röhm putsch—a purge in which Hitler, in an attempt to curry favor with the general population, murdered Brownshirts and other violent paramilitary men who had been loyal to him. Oskar hides under the grandstand at a rally and drums The Blue Danube and other nationalist music while the military band plays. Eventually, the band succumbs to his rhythm, and a political rally becomes instead a folkdance festival. He goes home to a typical German meal of meatloaf, red cabbage, and boiled potatoes.

Chapter 10: Shop Windows

Until November 1938, Oskar disrupts rallies with his drumming, turning militaristic music into popular dance music. From the mental institution, he declares that he had not been a member of the Resistance. His proof is a seriocomic list of rallies he disrupted by single-minded groups both real (Boy Scouts, Jehovah's Witnesses) and invented (spinach shirts of the PX). Instead, he claims, his task was destruction and his role, a seducer. He explains that the impulse originated in a memory of being under his grandmother's skirts.

In the further interest of controlling a crowd, Oskar uses his voice to cut holes into shop windows where people pass by, so that they see there is a hole and can reach in and steal things. He enjoys tempting people into thievery, and dozens of people end up getting caught. When he sees Jan pass by a jewelry store, he tempts him into stealing a ruby necklace for Agnes. Jan steals it, and then sees Oskar standing across the street. Jan walks with Oskar but doesn't mention the necklace or the fact that he knows what Oskar has been doing. Jan gives Agnes the necklace, but she can't wear it unless no one sees her. Oskar later uses the necklace to get himself goods to sell on the black market.

Analysis

Intuitively, Oskar seeks meaning through his talent. Self-consciously, he turns the "singshatter" at the State Theater into a joke. This is reminiscent of any youth trying out a big idea and worrying that he will be exposed as a failure. Readers find Oskar cautiously thinking for himself. No longer simply a product of his family culture and German society, he is growing up. His embarrassment on the beach and his rescue of the soprano in distress portend his sexual coming of age. He is changing and making political choices. Typical of his fading denial, he loses interest in the party, but still, he denies it is because of the 1934 purge. The power of folk music over a political gathering suggests, in the long run, the power of an older culture to take back its claim on its citizens—or perhaps a commentary on the transitory power of evil and the potential to create a moral future.

The novel brilliantly demonstrates the striking ambivalence of the coming-of-age experience. Oskar cries at the end of Tom Thumb and wishes to remain with his mother forever at the same time that he wanders, stumbling, into an era of expanding experience. Similarly ambivalent over his growing understanding of party politics, Oskar disrupts rallies and underplays the importance of his subversive activities.

Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, sometimes described as the Nazis' first organized violence against the Jewish population, took place on November 9, 1938. Without his guilt, Oskar cannot remain in the mental institution, where he writes his memoir as a form of salvation. Thus, he declares he was not a member of the Resistance at the same time that his narrative describes his subversive behavior in the years leading up to this orgy of violence against Jewish families and Jewish businesses.

The rest of "Shop Windows" explores the nature of lust in contrast to love and the limits of desire. Oskar, in the role of seducer, cuts neat circles in the glass of shop windows "with the most silent of screams." He is maturing, gaining control of his glass-shattering gifts (his rage and bad habits) and, instead, creating tests in order to explore human nature. Various passersby succumb to the temptations of the exposed merchandise. As some reject theft and others succumb, Oskar begins his life lessons. In one case, love triumphs over lust as a young woman prevents her lover from stealing some expensive cologne for her. In an example of dramatic irony, it is Jan Bronski who presents an example alarmingly close to home as the hapless lover steals a ruby necklace that he gives to Agnes.

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