Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 2 Chapters 27 28 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 2, Chapters 27–28 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 27: Inspecting Concrete—or Mystical Barbaric Bored

Oskar in Paris, in love with Roswitha, finds that the Eiffel Tower makes him homesick. He compares standing or squatting beneath the vault to sheltering beneath his grandmother's four skirts. As the German forces shorten their lines of defense, Bebra, who has been visited by officers, grows quiet and distracted. He warns Oskar and Roswitha to enjoy themselves before it is too late; "it's concrete tomorrow," he announces.

They head for Normandy and a pillbox battery on the beach where they learn that there has been so little action that the soldiers, happy to be learning skills they can use in peace time, spend their days building concrete bunkers. Conversations among the acting troupe and the soldiers are in the form of a script. One soldier notes that when they pour concrete, they always add a puppy, and when they run out of puppies, they will likely use cats.

Lankes, a German soldier, admits to being a painter of some reputation who has sold work in Switzerland. A discussion about the nature of modern art ensues, and Lankes speculates that the bunkers he has designed and built will be discovered in another time and found notable for what he has captured: "magical, menacing, yet imbued with a striking spirituality." He tells Bebra he has titled one "Mystical, barbaric, bored," to which Bebra responds, "You have given our century its name." They learn that the spikes on the beach, which are supposed to ward off tanks and landing craft, are called "Rommel's asparagus." Oskar puts the words into a poem, which Kitty, a contortionist, recites.

They have a picnic of elaborate delicacies from all around Europe in an idyllic moment that changes when a group of nuns is spotted on the beach; they are gathering prawns at low tide to feed the children they protect. The soldiers are ordered to fire, in case the women are spies. A gramophone plays The Platters' song, "The Great Pretender," to muffle the sound of the guns. The next day the troupe prepares to evacuate as the Allied forces coalesce at the Normandy coast. In the rush to pack up and flee, Roswitha asks Oscar to bring her coffee. He refuses, and when she leaves to get her own, she is struck and killed by an incoming shell. Oscar returns to Danzig on 11 June 1944, the day before Kurt's third birthday.

Chapter 28: The Imitation of Christ

In the present-day framing tale, Oskar considers the conventions of homecoming, beginning with Homer's Odyssey and taking James Joyce's version of the epic in Ulysses to task. Rejecting the narrative of the returning hero, Oskar finds the story of the prodigal's return suits him.

Warmly received at home by Matzareth, Oskar acknowledges his doubled identity, calling himself Oskar Bronski and Oskar Matzareth. Matzerath receives a visit from an officer of the Ministry of Health, who wants him to place Oskar in an institution. Matzerath refuses; then letters start arriving, but Matzerath refuses to sign them.

Assuming his son would repeat his history, Oskar prepares for the gift of the drum and the moment in which Kurt will call "Halt" to his physical development. Instead, Kurt violently rejects Oskar, beating him with broken toys and a toy whip. Maria comforts Oskar, and when she learns that her brother Fritz has been killed, she seeks solace in the Catholic Church. Oskar accompanies her to introduce her to Catholic ritual. He also revisits the plaster statue of Jesus and again tests his faith by inviting Jesus to play the tin drum. This time a miracle occurs and Jesus plays, quite impressively, delivering scenes from Oskar's life to him through his drumming. Then he speaks, welcoming Oskar with his love and promising to build a church on him. Oskar runs from the church. He knows, however, he cannot shatter the church windows and leaves without trying.

Analysis

The action in Normandy takes place in June 1944 during the Allied landing in France (D-Day is celebrated on June 6), a turning point in the war. June 11 is the day the Allies form a unified front across France. Approximately 20,000 men from all sides died on the beaches during that week.

At the opening of this chapter, Oskar, 19 and deeply in love, thinks about his comforts under his grandmother's skirts. He has found unconditional love with Roswitha. Her death, on the date of the Allied victories, will mark a turning point in Oskar's life.

The long breakfast on the beach before Roswitha's death takes up wartime themes that include gratuitous cruelty and foreshadow German defeat. The theater troupe and the soldiers on the beach enjoy a lyric moment before the storm, eating a lavish picnic breakfast, writing poems, and discussing art. Their denial of the week's massive slaughter is pierced by the soldiers' mundane cruelty in sealing a puppy into each concrete structure and damaged further by the murder of the nuns. Oskar cannot, however, deny Roswitha's death. Thus, June 1944 marks a crucial turning point not only in the war but also in Oskar's life.

On his return to Danzig, Oskar expects the family story to repeat. The doubled version of Oskar's life story, provided by the framing device in the novel, supports the doubleness that Oskar comes to appreciate in life. Matzerath's paternal greeting encourages Oskar to accept his doubled identity as the son of two fathers. He also accepts two stories of his homecoming: the first, the role of the prodigal son, and the second, his oft-rejected Catholicism.

As the scene in the church evokes the Gospel's exchange between Jesus and his disciple Peter, Oskar rejects Jesus three times, and then—unlike Peter's ultimate acquiescence—Oskar once more denies Jesus. Still, the statue persists, declaring Oskar the rock on which the church will be built. Grass uses verbal irony here; Peter's name translates as rock. Oskar, the man with the name that doesn't fit, recognizes that there is no way to totally abandon the church into which he was born. At the same time, the reader comes to recognize a failure in language. Oskar and rock do not align, yet the language of the church, even more influential that the language of Nazi Germany, prevails. It is a language that cannot totally be expunged; nor can it be transformed.

The church scene is a perfect example of what Grass called his "broadened realities": not only can Jesus drum, but his drumroll is "not half-bad" and he "[doesn't] scorn popular hits." Oskar's humorous account of the fantastic scene makes it seem like just one more event in his strange life.

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