Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 2 Chapters 21 22 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 2, Chapters 21–22 | Summary



Chapter 21: Maria

Maria is Oskar's first love, Herbert's younger sister, and the one person who saves Oskar from having to live without a tin drum now that only Matzerath takes care of him. Christmas comes and goes, and Oskar is so disappointed over not receiving a new drum he screams for the first time in a long time, shattering the Christmas tree ornaments. But Maria, who works in the store for Matzerath because he can't run the business himself, takes over the job of buying Oskar drums. She even trades precious sugar and coffee for them in the final years of the war, when tin is rationed. "Though relations between Maria and me ... are unsettled to this day," he tells readers in a switch to the present-day frame story, "the way in which she hands me my drum remains unchanged."

Maria also takes care of Oskar, but she treats him like a toddler even though he is nearly 16 and she, nearly 17. She bathes and dresses him, which embarrasses and thrills him, and he realizes, as his drumming changes quality around her, that he is in love with her. She also takes him to the beach, and on the way they pass the cemetery where Jan is buried. When he sees her at the beach changing room without her clothes on, he gets aroused and rushes at her, burying his face in her private parts, crying because he is terrified and doesn't know what to do. She laughs at him.

Chapter 22: Fizz Powder

The sexual contact between Maria and Oskar begins with fizz powder, a candy that fizzes when put in the mouth. Maria pours it into her hand and asks Oskar to spit on it, and then she licks it up. Later, Matzerath tells Oskar that he's going to stay with Maria a couple of nights a week so that Matzerath can play skat. Oskar will share a bed with Maria. Oskar decides to bring fizz powder to bed, and it becomes a ritual between him and Maria. Eventually, the placement of the fizz powder on Maria goes lower, onto her belly, and Oskar licks it up. This results in a sexual encounter in which Oskar acquires "an eleventh finger ... a third drumstick—he was old enough for it." It is not clear that Maria is completely asleep, because Oskar says she is asleep above and awake below. When Oskar proposes a commitment between them, Maria turns from him and fiddles with the knobs of a radio, and he asks, in irritation, if she has "a mad passion for special communiqués."


These chapters rework Oskar's trip to the beach with Agnes, reminding readers that his sexual awakening, and his growing awareness of his body, results in growing self-reflection. He is beginning to make sense of the world. The obvious difference is that this time he is provided with a bathing suit. But the repetitions recall his earliest sexual feelings tied very specifically to his mother. Emulating maternal behavior, Maria buys him drums, mends his clothes, bathes him. At the same time, also like Agnes, Maria is seductive. She is amused by the sexual encounter Oskar takes seriously. It seems she is titillated as well. Oscar's sexual initiation with a woman who is not a blood relation consists of the same act he has performed with his grandmother: this time, the sensory overload is redolent of vanilla and mushrooms, rather than rancid butter. There is a chill to the encounter as well, as Maria's earthy fragrance initiates a new recognition for Oskar: a sense of the transience of life.

Oskar's sexual initiation produces a not-unexpected insight of adolescence; he comes face to face with his own mortality. This sobering reality is foreshadowed in glimpses of the cemetery on the road to the beach. Never passing up an opportunity to make bad puns and gross visual jokes, the narrator poses the boy whose first wish is to return to the womb at just that threshold where he comes to appreciate the not-so-secret alliance of love and death.

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