Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 2 Chapters 33 34 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 2, Chapters 33–34 | Summary



Chapter 33: Disinfectant

In the present-day framing tale, Oskar addresses the nature of dreams, calling them "inane stories filled with ... monologues." He rejects the jam that Bruno brings with breakfast every morning, complaining that Bruno already knows he dislikes it. He asks Bruno to measure him, and he revises the story of the catalyst for his growth. He claims he made the decision to grow before Kurt threw a stone that hit him on the back of his head. Furthermore, he jumped into Matzerath's grave, and the neighbor Heilandt pulled him out, leaving the drum and drumsticks. He wonders if Kurt threw the stone to speed up Oskar's growth because he wanted a "real grownup father at last."

Oskar returns to his memories of the past to relate that Herr Fajngold, who has taken over the grocery, lets his family live in his bedroom because a Polish family now lives in Mother Truczinski's flat. Maria objects, so Maria and Kurt live in the cellar, while Oskar—who is feverish and in pain from the impact of rapid growth on his joints—sleeps on a cot in the living room. He awakes from a fevered dream to the smell of disinfectant: Herr Fajngold is obsessed with cleanliness. He recalls Treblinka where he was charged with disinfecting everything among the living and the dead.

Little Kurt works in the grocery along with Maria and Herr Fajngold. Kurt has a knack for picking out high-quality sewing machines on the black market and is a "gifted linguist." Oskar's grandmother, Anna, pays a visit and delivers insights to Oskar, saying, "Kashubes ... hold their heads still for others to whack, because we ain't really Polish and we ain't really German." Although Oskar calls to her, she leaves.

Herr Fajngold proposes to Maria, who is now 22, but she refuses: they are instead going to her sister, Guste, in Düsseldorf. The family packs up everything they can carry, including packets of disinfectant where the ruby necklace that Jan stole has been hidden.

Chapter 34: Growth in a Boxcar

In grinding pain and unable to hold a pen, Oskar asks Bruno to write for him. Bruno agrees to "recreate" the narrative. He also mentions that he intends to work on his own knotworks, tying string as he takes in Oskar's story.

Bruno seems to be creating small woven sculptures to chronicle Oskar's life journey. He has knotted Oskar's family members, Herbert, and buildings significant to his patient's story. He tells how the family traveled to Düsseldorf in a boxcar; how they experienced attacks by robbers during the trip; and of Oskar's defense of his prize possession, his photo album.

The feverish Oskar has to be hospitalized in Düsseldorf to get through the rest of his growth spurt. Bruno also hints that Oskar's drumming will come back into his life. Bruno reveals that he knew who Oskar was before his patient came to the asylum because of Oskar's fame as a jazz drummer. He has "grown rich through his recordings." Bruno concludes by saying Oskar will next relate how he fared after the war as he begins "a new and now grownup life." In this life Oskar can speak and is relatively healthy aside from his deformity.


Herr Fajngold represents the terrible aftermath of the concentration camp survivors. He bravely takes on a new life but continues to live as if his family is still with him. He can't let go of the past, even his painful memories about being in charge of disinfectant at Treblinka.

Introducing Bruno as a straightforward narrator in Chapter 34 reminds readers of Oskar's flaws as a narrator and a human. Bruno says Oskar "can't keep his story moving in a straight line" and says that Luzie "keeps throwing the story off." Oskar is ambivalent, self-aggrandizing, and selfish, and is very good at rationalizing and avoiding the truth, embodied in Luzie. Of course growth is difficult for him.

The novel is a bildungsroman, meant to make readers consider their own development from childhood to adulthood. In this light, Oskar's painful growth stands for that of all human beings. His flaws are evident especially in times of high stress, when a person's true nature is revealed. Since Bruno tells readers Oskar will drum again—will, in fact, become a famous drummer—he clearly has more growing to do.

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