HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 2 Chapters 23 24 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 2, Chapters 23–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23: Special Communiqués

Oskar tries to get Maria to remember the fizz powder by getting Bruno to find him some for her next visit to the asylum. Maria, however, refuses to talk about it and is embarrassed. Oskar then continues his story. He recalls sleeping with Maria and asserts that he made her pregnant with Kurt. Then, just ten days later, he walks in on her having sex with Matzerath. Oskar attacks them, and Matzerath hits him. Maria defends Oskar and then cleans herself up. To make her feel better, Oskar tries to initiate a fizz powder session again, but Maria kicks him and calls him a "nasty dwarf." She tries to backpedal, but Oskar is so hurt by what had transpired that he hits her between her legs and keeps attacking her until they are both crying. Later, Matzerath marries Maria, who is pregnant. Paternity is a mystery, however, just as it was for Oskar. "That's something I inherited from Jan" Oskar tells the reader: "that I was there before Matzerath and didn't go away."

Chapter 24: Carrying My Helplessness to Frau Greff

The frame tale opens with Oskar's dislike of Greff, which continues, the narrator notes, even after Greff's death.

Greff is an exemplary citizen. Oskar lists Greff's attributes, which he seems to know well. The greengrocer is a nature lover, a man who treasures history, a boy scout leader, a guitar player who shares musical evenings with his scouts. He is patriotic, an expert camper, an ice-bather; he knows German history and willingly shares his gifts and his knowledge. He loves people, especially favoring wiry, squeaky-clean boys, but neglects his carefree, "somewhat dimwitted," voluptuous wife.

Greff also serves, along with Maria's brother, as witness to Matzerath and Maria's marriage. Oskar's hatred for Maria mounts with the swelling of her belly. He attempts on two occasions to induce an abortion by harming Maria. After Oskar's failed attack with scissors, Maria asks that he move upstairs. Maria buys him a new drum, and Oskar moves into Mother Truczinski's flat, where he sleeps in a small bed next to the one in which he and Maria had made love.

That June, with German victories on every front, Maria gives birth to Kurt, whom Oskar believes is his child. Oskar's Polish relatives, now "ethnic Germans," attend the baptism. Oskar refuses to enter the Protestant church. During the baptism feast, Oskar quietly visits the baby, hoping that the boy might be clairaudient (able to hear sounds from the spirit world) like himself. Oskar vows to give his son a tin drum on his third birthday. The conversation at the baptism feast is dominated by desultory talk about Russian prisoners, U-boats and submarines, only interrupted when Vinzent Bronski tips over his beer glass trying to demonstrate a diving U-boat. Chocolate pudding with vanilla sauce is served to end the meal, and Oskar, his senses tortured by the familiar smell, slips off his chair by holding onto Frau Greff's skirts. Recognizing his own helplessness, he decides to carry his pain daily to Lina Greff, a foul-smelling woman whose "effluvium" kills off all fragrance of the vanilla scent that so plagued him.

Analysis

In the preceding chapter, Oskar comes to recognize mortality as the essential helplessness of all humanity. In this section, his personal helplessness—his belief that Maria's son is his child; his inability to stop her pregnancy or her marriage—and his own descent into hatred dominate. The chapter begins with his dislike of Greff, whose life is exemplary except for the grocer's abiding interest in young boys. Oskar does not acknowledge his concern with Greff's choices but also seems to have studied Greff assiduously, as if to discover meaning there. The description of Greff foreshadows what will happen later to him, when the Nazis summon him to court for his immoral contact with young boys. In addition, all his favorite scouts will end up in the SS and go to war.

The long scene of the baptism feast demonstrates the complacency of the guests with respect to the war as well as the signs of denial in their social situations. Grandmother Anna is present with Vinzent, without a whiff of scandal about their past. The Kashubians present have shifted their identities to "ethnic German." Even the goose they have provided for the feast has a new designation as "ethnic German." And Oskar, unable to imagine a future any different from the present, holds out hope that Kurt will be clairaudient and the recipient of a drum at age three. That is, he wishes for his son the survival strategies that have sustained him, albeit barely. Further regressed, Oskar slips to the floor, holding onto to Frau Greff's skirt and vowing to find familiar comfort there.

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