Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 3 Chapters 39 40 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 3, Chapters 39–40 | Summary



Chapter 39: In the Wardrobe

Not only is Oskar opening Sister Dorothea's mail, but he also keeps checking her door. One day, he finds the door is open. First he closes the door out of shock, but then he opens it again, goes into her room, and rifles through her things, fondling her underwear and pleasuring himself inside her wardrobe, smelling her uniform and trying not to get the mess on her clothes so he doesn't get caught. He has to wipe off her shiny black leather belt, though, which has reminded him of the eels caught on the horse's head earlier in the novel. Reliving that scene, Oskar comes to the sad conclusion that his mother died, sick of men, including him, and of life itself. He drums "a few random measures" against the wardrobe wall before leaving Sister Dorothea's room.

Chapter 40: Klepp

Back in his room, Oskar picks up "Raskolnikov's gift, my tin drum," but cannot play it. Oskar meets Klepp, another neighbor. A flute and jazz clarinet player, Klepp is overweight, smelly, and slovenly, but surprisingly, a good cook who feeds Oskar spaghetti. They chat about Klepp's set of bagpipes, and when Kleep asks Oskar why he should believe what "such a little man ... had to say about music," Oskar feels a shiver as if all his old drums were "resurrected whole" and "sounded forth." The sound of his old drums pulls him toward his room, where he gets the drum and drumsticks and returns to Klepp's room. There he plays his life story for Klepp on the drum. Klepp pulls out a wooden lute, and they play the story of Oskar's grandfather together. Klepp is energized by Oskar's playing. He cleans himself up and suggests they form a band, and they go out together to drink beer and eat blood sausages. Oskar decides to give up stonecutting and modeling and pledges to become a percussionist in a jazz band.


In these two chapters, Oskar relives key aspects of his early life obsessions. Dorothea's wardrobe is a repetition of the time in his mother's wardrobe when he observes the incestuous and adulterous couple make love. He is sickened by their transgressions, and in revisiting the Good Friday scene on the pier—while he is inside Dorothea's wardrobe—Oskar has a revelation. He recognizes that his mother, who can never be satisfied, had opted out of life. She gorges on fish, not to fill herself, but in recognition of a greed that can't be satisfied. This acknowledgment is the basis of her suicide.

In his visit to Klepp's room, Oskar overcomes his revulsion and eats spaghetti, which he finds delicious. On the plate it is a pleasing contrast in miniature to the image of the twisted and squirming eels from his flashback inside the wardrobe. In Klepp's room, Oskar's regression to the past brings positive results, as does his anger when Klepp calls him a "little man" and doubts that Oskar knows anything about music. Oscar grabs his drum and plays out of a productive anger. Thus, the best of Oskar and what he brings from his past emerges. He tells his life, beautifully and authentically, by drumming, and Klepp understands and responds. The Good Friday death of Agnes is redeemed in the resurrection of Klepp and Oskar.

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