Study Guide

The Tin Drum Plot Analysis

By Günter Grass

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Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Skirts, Drums, and One Heckuva Voice

Meet the narrator of this book, Oskar Matzerath, a thirty-year old man living in an insane asylum writing his life story. Oskar informs us that he was born with the intellectual capacity of a full-grown adult. As a newborn, he realizes that he wants no part of adulthood or responsibility, so on his third birthday, he decides to stop growing. On that same birthday, he gets a present of a tin drum, which he plays incessantly. He can never be without a drum, which he uses to distance himself from the world around him. When his parents can't take it anymore and try to take the drum from Oskar, he screams and discovers another special skill—his voice can shatter glass.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Are You Sitting Down?

Alrighty then. So far, we have a young man who can't grow beyond three feet, who claims to be a genius, who needs a constant supply of new tin drums, and who has a passion for destroying other people's property. Oh yeah, and Nazism is on the rise in Oskar's hometown of Danzig. Needless to say, conflict is pretty abundant in this novel.

Oskar's first concern always seems to be getting a steady supply of tin drums. His mother takes him to a toy store to get them. However, the store is destroyed on Kristallnacht, and the Jewish store owner kills himself. He goes to his uncle (maybe father) Jan Bronski looking for help, but actually ends up getting Jan killed by the Nazis, too. After Oskar's mother dies, he decides to pull up stakes and work in a travelling show with another little person like himself named Bebra. Bebra becomes a mentor to Oskar, which makes Oskar feel kind of guilty when he ends up having a romantic relationship with Bebra's "girlfriend" Roswitha. Roswitha dies during the Allied invasion of France. Oskar returns home penniless. His father, an active member of the Nazi party, is killed during the Russian liberation of Danzig.

After his father's death, Oskar and his stepmother/former lover Maria move with Oskar's "brother" Kurt, who might actually be Oskar's son. Successful stints as a stonecutter and professional drummer make Oskar rich, and he uses his money to take care of Maria and Kurt.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Oskar on the Run

Oskar takes out a room in a boarding house and becomes dangerously obsessed with a tenant named Sister Dorothea, who's later found murdered. Having had it with life as a responsible adult, he arranges for a friend to turn him in as her murderer. He goes on the run to make his guilt more believable. Oskar's flight from the police is pretty short-lived. All in all, the climax is sort of an anti-climax because getting accused of murder has been Oskar's plan all along. He tells us that he wants to be in a mental hospital. We have to take this with a grain of salt, because saying that he intentionally got caught might be Oskar's way of controlling which version of the story he's willing to let you hear.

Falling Action

Suspect Apprehended

Once Oskar gets caught by the police, the case is pretty open and shut. Oskar confesses to the murder, even though it's unclear if he's the person who committed it. His friends and lawyer try to help him all they can, but he's resolved to removing himself from the world and living peacefully in the mental institution, where he can drum and write all he likes without being bothered (except by the occasional visitor).

Resolution (Denouement)

The Black Cook

In the final moments of the story, Oskar muses about how death seems to follow him wherever he goes. He thinks of death as a person or monster called "The Black Cook." He borrows this figure from German folklore and claims that the Black Cook was at his mother's funeral and was wandering the streets the night that Nazis first started attacking Jewish people. There are different ways to interpret this ending, but ultimately, Oskar seems to be saying that the Black Cook is still there, that there are still reasons to fear life.

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