Literature Study GuidesThe Tin DrumBook 3 Chapters 45 46 Summary

The Tin Drum | Study Guide

Günther Grass

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The Tin Drum | Book 3, Chapters 45–46 | Summary



Chapter 45: The Last Tram or Adoration of a Canning Jar

Oskar recalls how he became friends with Vittlar, the man who called to him from the tree. Switching to the present-day story, he says Vittlar made a statement to the court two years before that led to his trial. In the statement Vittlar describes how Lux tried to get Oskar's attention and present him with the severed finger. He discusses their meeting and says Oskar took the ring off the severed finger and gave it to Vittlar. Eventually, after they silently wait out the landing of a nearby airplane, Vittlar returns the ring, which Oskar puts back on the severed finger. He takes Vittlar to the stonecutter's shop, and Korneff makes a mold of it. They dine and become friends.

Vittlar goes on to tell how he visits Oskar at his apartment a few days later and notices the severed finger in a jar. Oskar admits that he prays to the finger sometimes. Vittlar asks, "Whose finger?" and Oskar provides details that reveal he believes the finger was Dorothea's. The ring was a gift from her boss. He gives odd, fragmented clues: "Jealous for no reason, illness but not mine, death but not mine ... took her there first." Vittlar states that the details coincide with the official description of "the murdered woman, the hospital nurse Sister Dorothea Köngetter."

In the final part of his statement, Vittlar tells how he and Oskar take over an empty tram at a depot and three passengers come on board, two holding a third man prisoner. Oskar immediately recognizes the prisoner as the half-blind Viktor, a man from the Polish Post Office incident. The other men, Germans, want to finally execute Viktor; they have an execution order dated October 1939. Oskar begs them to let Viktor go, but they refuse and take him away. Oskar and Vittlar follow. Oskar then starts drumming the phrase "Poland is not yet lost!" and Polish cavalrymen swoop in and take away all three men.

After this strange incident, Vittlar, astonished by Oskar's talent, wishes he could be famous, too. Oskar tells him that if he turns Oskar in to the police for the murder of Dorothea, Vittlar can be famous. Vittlar doesn't want to do this but eventually agrees. Oskar runs off to make it look like he's running from the authorities. He leaves his drum with a cow that has licked him awake after a nap in the field.

Chapter 46: Thirty

It is Oskar's 30th birthday, and Vittlar and Klepp are celebrating with him. Klepp gives him some jazz records, and Vittlar tells him it's time for him to get out of the asylum and assemble some disciples, because that's what Jesus did when he was 30. Oskar is a bit panicky about the idea of assembling disciples again. His lawyer comes in and says that he has good news. The case of Sister Dorothea's murder has been reopened, and it seems that another nurse, Sister Beate, killed her in a jealous rage over Dr. Werner.

Oskar tells how he fled after telling Vittlar to turn him in, taking a train to Paris and hearing the train sing out: "Better start running, the Black Cook's coming!" In Paris he senses the Black Cook, the folkloric female witch, everywhere, and indeed he is quickly found by Interpol agents. After greeting them with the words, "I am Jesus!" he is arrested and sent to the mental institution.

Now Oskar will be released, and he is uncertain about his future. He is 30 and still afraid of the Black Cook. He will have to drum and conjure her up, he says, in order to figure out what he will do after his discharge. The Black Cook, symbolizing Death, was once behind him, but now she comes toward him. The novel ends with the refrain, "Better start running, the Black Cook's coming! Ha! Ha! Ha!"


Oskar has often expressed the desire for Poland to reemerge as it was. In the scene with Viktor, the Germans, and the Polish horsemen, Poland does come back and saves a victim of a disaster similar to the one in which Oskar betrayed his beloved Jan. The scene is another example of the "broadened realities" Grass employs at times in the novel. Bruno attributes the sudden appearance of the horsemen to Oskar's drumming, Victor's vocalization of the drum's song, and the moon, as if the mere synchronization of the events could call forth a miracle.

The sudden appearance of the lawyer with new evidence that exonerates Oskar on his 30th birthday, just when Jesus would be assembling disciples, terrifies Oskar. He has come of age; the years of life lived on the edge are behind him, and the Black Cook—a witchlike figure from a German children's rhyme and a symbol of death—is ahead.

Cleared of the suspicion of murder, Oskar is now left with a life of ordinary human prospects. Yet readers know his capacity to appreciate the human comedy and express it through his drumming. The ending is not despairing. Rather, he will "conjure up" the Black Cook and "consult her" so that he can finally tell Bruno what sort of life he plans to lead from now on. Death is inevitable, after all, and it gives meaning to life.

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