Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 3 Chapters 35 36 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 3, Chapters 35–36 | Summary



Chapter 35: Flintstones and Gravestones

Book 2 closes with Oskar headed toward a new, grown-up life. As Book 3 opens, Oskar is at loose ends, searching for the meaning of life. Released from the hospital in Düsseldorf, he returns to his family and lives with them at the apartment of Maria's sister, Guste. Maria and Kurt are gainfully employed, although much to the concern of Guste, they are making their living on the black market. Kurt, at six, a natural salesman, is selling flintstones. He will not reveal the source of the stones and, in place of a nightly prayer, says, "I've got a source!" Maria sells synthetic honey.

Oskar has a brief wish to be three again, and admits that he misses his drum. In order to carry on, however, he takes night school classes and joins discussion groups focused on German guilt. He takes long walks, preferring the cemetery, where he believes one can summon courage, reach decisions, and uncover life's meaning. He meets a stonecutter and gravestone sculptor, Korneff, and they bond. As an apprentice to the stonecutter, Oskar finds joy, especially in engraving letters. He has found a way to support his family.

Oskar thinks he has a glimpse of Crazy Leo at the cemetery; Korneff says the man is called Weird Willem and "There's a bunch of them look like that used to be in the seminary" who now live in graveyards. Setting a stone in the cemetery and soothed by the words of a nearby burial service, Oskar tends to the neck boils that plague Korneff. At the end of the chapter he successfully helps set the monument for the grave.

Chapter 36: Fortuna North

Oskar is doing well as a stonecutter, and he and Korneff often receive goods in payment. They get cloth from a tailor, who offers to make them suits. Oskar is delighted with his finery and with his changed appearance. He courts the nurses and invites Sister Gertrud on a date. She arrives not in uniform but in rather shoddy and poorly cut civilian clothes. They go dancing and attract a good deal of attention because Oskar is a terrific dancer. Gertrud is humiliated by the attention they get on the dance floor, and at her first opportunity, she leaves the dancehall. Oskar recovers by finding new dance partners and friends. He returns to the dancehall many times.

Oskar and Korneff arrive at a cemetery overlooking a landscape dominated by the "staged beauty" of industrial recovery, coal mines, and high voltage lines and chimney stacks of Fortuna North, a power company. In the course of exhuming a grave and preparing a new one, Oskar finds a middle finger of the woman they have exhumed. Thinking of the graveyard scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Oskar makes some choices. He gives up the dancehall scene and decides to settle down. He proposes to Maria, who refuses him. Humbled by her refusal, he sees himself not as Hamlet's Yorick, becoming "a solid citizen, but a Hamlet instead, a fool."


In these two chapters, Oskar moves from being an outsider to thinking about becoming a "solid citizen." The chapters reflect on the accumulation of things of value in life: material goods as well as membership in a community of responsibility and family values. Oskar finds joy in work and also compassion in attending to the boils Korneff suffers from.

His new sense of self expands when he manages the humiliation of being jilted in the dancehall by staying and making new friends. He clearly enjoys dancing and the sociability the dancehall encourages. The graveyard scene recalls scenes in two major literary works, Shakespeare's Hamlet and James Joyce's Ulysses. The Hamlet allusion has Oskar thinking about choices—"to be or not to be" and the sort of choices that are often encouraged in the face of death, that is, when in a cemetery. The middle finger of the dead woman is an allusion to the skull found in the graveyard in Hamlet. The allusion to Joyce's great modernist novel is reflected in choices with respect to literary style—more evidence of Grass's conviction that there can be poetry after Auschwitz. Thus, Oskar, who has begun to explore the nature of postwar guilt with others, has also found an authentic language and is moving toward accepting the pleasures and disappointments of an ordinary life. His self-evaluation as a "fool" does not reflect devastation but an emotional honesty: court jesters, after all, are wise fools, destined to present the truth through irony and wit.

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