Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 2 Chapters 31 32 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 2, Chapters 31–32 | Summary



Chapter 31: The Ant Trail

This chapter begins with Oskar's description of a swimming pool, tiled in azure and surrounded by suntanned and attractive people. There is a holiday atmosphere: music is playing, and there is a sign with a few rules. The rules, Oskar notes, are unnecessary since those who come to swim are there for only a short time "and break the rules elsewhere." A young man climbs a 10-meter tower "rung by rung" and stands on the diving platform, seeing friends below. They call out for him to dive, but he doesn't want to; he just "wanted to see what it looked like from up there." This is the situation in which he and the Dusters find themselves he says, as he describes the trial of the Dusters.

Luzie Rennwand is there with her triangular face and her dark-eyed stare, encouraging each member of the gang to "jump" off the diving board, or admit to what they have done. Oskar considers the "seductive nature of the ten-meter diving board" and pictures the world at his feet: those who are at war and those who have nothing to do with it. His mind's eye sweeps the world, noticing the mundane and the violent, the good and egregious acts that create "a story already being woven into History."

Oskar won't jump, and he is the only person who doesn't get punished for what everyone did in the church. But after he is sent home, Matzerath finally signs the letter asking him to commit Oskar. It is too late, however: the Russian bombardment of Danzig begins that very day. The family hides from the Russians in their cellar, along with Frau Greff; Mother Truczinski stays in her flat and dies in an air raid. Oskar is in the group that goes to bury her, and casually notes the bodies of traitors hanging from the trees of a park. He thinks Störtebeker is one of the hanged younger men and hopes to find Luzie's body there but does not.

Danzig is burning; church bells are melting "in their tower frames," and Butchers Lane "smelled of burned Sunday roast," among other colorful descriptions of the burning city. The Russians find the hiding group. They rape Frau Greff repeatedly, but spare Maria because they love children and she has Kurt on her lap. Matzerath tries to hide his Party pin. He drops it, and Oskar picks it up, holds onto it for a while, and then hands it back to Matzerath, who takes it and tries to swallow it. However, the pin is open when he swallows it, and he chokes and gasps as it tears through his esophagus. One of the soldiers shoots him, and he dies. Oskar reports all the events as dispassionately as he describes a trail of ants heading for a burst sack of sugar.

Chapter 32: Should I or Shouldn't I

This chapter begins with a description of the lengthy and violent history of Danzig, the centuries of attacks and the changes in governance, and the rise and fall of the city's fortunes over time. Then came the Russians; and next, Oscar says, come the Poles, looking for housing. One of them, a man named Herr Fajngold, takes over the grocery store. Maria is installed as a salesgirl. Upon seeing Matzerath's corpse, Fajngold calls for his missing family members, who have died "in the ovens at Treblinka," a Nazi death camp. He still behaves as if his dead wife, Luba, is with him.

At Matzerath's funeral, Oskar, who is now nearly 21, asks himself repeatedly: Should I or shouldn't I? Without revealing what he is deliberating about, at last he decides, "I should!" As Matzerath is lowered into the grave, Oskar muses that he deliberately killed him because he was "fed up with having to haul a father around." He admits to himself that he opened the pin before he passed it to Matzerath, hoping he would choke on it. He will, however, miss Matzerath's cooking, and can appreciate his treatment of Maria and his reluctance to turn Oskar over to the Ministry of Health. His neighbor, Heilandt, is shoveling dirt on the coffin when Oskar reveals his decision: he tosses his drum and drumsticks onto the coffin. As the sand mounts on the coffin, Oskar begins to grow with "an inner grinding, popping, and cracking." Crazy Leo, whom the burial party passes on their way home, starts shouting that Oskar is growing, calling him "The Lord": "Look at the Lord, how He is growing!"


The swimming pool scene presents a world of attractive, carefree people who seem to have taken a vacation from rules and the prying natures of demanding friends. Oscar employs this image to explain his choice to not jump, to not acknowledge his role in the chaos at the Church and the violence perpetrated by the Dusters. His rationale lies in his vision of a chaotic world populated by large and small events and good and evil behavior. He is not responsible because he is merely a citizen of the world.

Yet the image of Luzie Rennwand will haunt Oskar forever. Luzie is such a staunch German she wants even her brothers punished for crimes against the Nazis. In the horror of the scene in which he sees the hanged Germans, he wishes to see Luzie dead also because she has made a judgment about him. Oskar can acknowledge enough of his guilt to wish he didn't have it. His values, as always, are ambivalent, as he vacillates between calling himself "I" and "Oscar" in his narration.

About Matzerath, too, Oskar is ambivalent. He can think of Matzerath's good qualities just as easily as he can admit he wanted this "presumptive father" to die. Oskar is endlessly capable of sorting and resorting his loyalties.

In his moment of truth at the grave, Oskar decides to give up his drum, the symbol of his refusal to grow physically and spiritually. Magic is conferred on the moment in a simple description of the scene: the sand "pile[s] higher, and grew—and I too began to grow."

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