Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 2 Chapters 19 20 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 2, Chapters 19–20 | Summary



Chapter 19: House of Cards

Kobyella, Oskar, and Jan play skat as the post office is being blown to bits, pillar by pillar. Kobyella is close to death, but his responsibility as the third player in the game keeps him alive for a bit longer. Jan, who has never won a game of skat in his life, starts to call Oskar Agnes; he is not in his right mind.

The Germans finally enter the post office with flamethrowers, and Kobyella dies. Oskar's main thought is that it's too bad Jan doesn't get to finish the game, because he is finally winning. However, Oskar's charitable thoughts toward Jan end when the Germans grab everyone around him. He screams and yells like a toddler to make the Germans believe he's just an innocent child in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Chapter 20: He Lies in Saspe

In this chapter, Oskar is honest with the reader about what he actually does when the Germans enter the post office. Not only does he scream and carry on, but he points at Jan as if Jan forced him to be there and used him as a shield. Oskar sees Jan and the other post office workers lined up, and he knows that Jan is going to be taken to his death with everyone else. Oskar, however, is safe and is brought home by the SS. Saying he believes Jan to have been his true father, he tells the reader, "The first of September nineteen thirty-nine ... marks the assumption of my second great burden of guilt." He cannot silence the "inner voice" that says it was "my drum, no, it was I myself, Oskar the drummer," who killed both his parents.

Jan's wife receives a note saying that Jan has been executed and that she and her family have to leave their apartment. Meanwhile, Oskar is in the hospital being treated like a hero. By the time he gets out, Poland has been conquered by the Nazis. Crazy Leo sees him at the cemetery and hands him a bullet casing that Oskar is sure was the bullet that killed Jan, as Crazy Leo tells him the workers were lined up and shot. Oskar takes the shell and a skat card that Jan was holding to Anna, his grandmother, and tells her Jan's body is in Saspe Cemetery.


Oskar is in a regressed state, traumatized by all that has occurred. He follows Leo, who is a sort of mad effigy of failed religion and despair; still, Leo is marked by his empathy, his acceptance of death, and his need to preserve the rituals of culture with respect to death. Although Leo's behavior is erratic, he hands to Oskar nostalgic objects—lest he forget.

Madness is often almost a virtue in this book, as readers see in Leo's character. Everyday reality is mad; denial and apathy rule, and to face that reality is to participate in the madness. Oskar's guilt and deception, on the other hand, identify him as a survivor citizen, incapable of much human feeling. Still, his guilt, albeit ill-placed, preserves the shreds of his humanity, just as the empty shell and the skat card, small artifacts of a small life, preserve the memory of Jan's life. Oskar's gesture to his grandmother at the end of Chapter 20 represents a small store of empathy he has nearly spent in one gesture. He wants his grandmother to at least know where Jan's body is, and what really happened to him, but he isn't about to admit his role in the tragedy.

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