Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 3 Chapters 37 38 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 3, Chapters 37–38 | Summary



Chapter 37: Madonna 49

As the German economy changes, Oskar needs to leave his work as a stonecutter. Invited to model at the Art Academy, he gets to see the impression his hump has on various individuals among draftsmen, painters, and sculptors. In despair over the impossibility of the reunification of Germany, he meets two Chinese women, a lesbian couple "who could never unite," and finds himself forced to consider "the meaning of life."

He also meets Lankes, the ex-soldier, artist, and murderer of nuns last seen in Chapter 27, whom he would have preferred to avoid if the artist had not greeted him first. Lankes is accompanied by Ulla, his muse. Oskar realizes that her pale, lanky beauty is the formal counterpoint to his dark, imperfect self. He convinces her to model in the nude with him. They are most successfully captured in a painting by an artist named Raskolnikov, who is obsessed with crime and punishment. Raskolnikov and Ulla have an erotic relationship that consists exclusively of looking at each other. Raskolnikov recognizes Oskar and insists that he hold a drum to perfect his modeling pose—and to atone for his guilt. Oskar resists for a time and then relents. Madonna 9, a painting of Oskar as the baby Jesus holding a drum and seated on the Virgin Ulla's lap is reproduced and widely circulated as a poster. When Maria, who now has a better-paying job, sees it, she takes him to task and says she wants nothing more to do with him and his "filthy money." Although she subsequently relents, he moves out of her apartment; he considers moving to Hamburg until Maria and Guste persuade him to remain in Düsseldorf.

Chapter 38: The Hedgehog

Oskar gets an apartment in a house owned by Zeidler, a man who looks like a hedgehog and smashes glasses when he is angry with his wife. Oskar notes that Zeidler sweeps up the broken glass once his rage is satisfied—something Oskar, the habitual glass shatterer, would never have done.

Zeidler also rents to Sister Dorothea, a nurse. Oskar gets his stonecutting job back again, and starts to fantasize about Sister Dorothea. He even opens her mail, trying to find out if she and a Dr. Werner are having an affair. They are not. Oskar thinks he is wildly in love and listens for her whenever he is home, but he doesn't run into her. He thinks about the nurses in his early life and recalls Bruno's preference for male nurses, remarking that female nurses seduce the patient toward either recovery or a death she "imbues with a tinge of eroticism."


The theme of this chapter is crime and punishment. Oskar is in thrall to Raskolnikov, the name of the murderous anti-hero of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Oskar's past is reintroduced when the artist hands Oskar a tin drum. Oskar is horrified and only reluctantly agrees to hold it. The pose that Raskolnikov arranges is one readers have seen before, at a desperately confused moment in Oskar's early life: the enactment of a Black Mass and the mutilation of the plaster statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mother. The trial in the aftermath of the Black Mass includes Oskar's obsession with Luzie Rennwand, who judges him for his behavior.

Oskar's obsession with Sister Dorothea, a woman he has never seen, also recalls his past and his erotic interest in nurses in uniform. These were the women who handled and bathed and managed his body in his early years—likely reminiscent of his earliest erotic feelings, his attachments to his seductive grandmother and mother. At the same time, Maria has made herself independent, thus changing the nature of her relationship to Oskar. Oskar seems to be in a regressed state and primed for trouble.

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