Study Guide

The Tin Drum Writing Style

By Günter Grass

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Writing Style

Poetically Logical

One thing you'll no doubt notice about this book's writing style is that its sentences can get really, really long and complex. For example, take a look at the length and the fancy language of this sentence, which we'll begin in its eighth line:

[…]—and Oskar sang too—a Christmas carol and another verse, Rejoice, and Ochristmastreeochristmastreehowlovelyarethy-ringbellsgotingaling-everyyearatchristmas and felt it was about time—they were already ringing the bells outside—I wanted my drum—the drunken brass band that Meyn the musician had once belonged to blew so loud the icicles on the window ledges…, but I wanted, and they weren't giving […]. (20.8)

And that's not the end of the sentence. There are eight more lines where those came from. The interminable sentence reflects Oskar's frustration about waiting for his drum for what seems like forever.

Some of Grass's sentences can get so long that you'll get lost or hypnotized right in the middle of them. Oskar jumps from past to present to future and back, a postmodern style that challenges the idea of an orderly narrative.

Grass also uses a unique combination of figurative language and logical thinking to reveal how Oskar's mind is at once artistic, yet cold and manipulative. One way that Grass achieves this is through his constant use of metonymy. When Oskar thinks of people, for example, he tends to think of what he associates with them. When he talks about his grandmother, for example, Oskar talks about the four potato colored skirts his grandmother always wears instead of the woman herself. When he talks about his grandfather being chased by two policemen, he refers to his grandfather only as "short and stout" and the two policemen as "tall and thin" (1.22).

And then there's the poetry. It can be pretty breathtaking:

[…] and I had a swan but no drum, probably more than a thousand building blocks but not a single drum, had mittens for all those bitter-cold winter nights but nothing round, smooth, ice-cold, and lacquered, and tinny in my mittened fists to carry into the winter night so the frost could actually hear something truly white. (20.7)

Keep in mind that you're reading this book in translation. The 2009 translation by Breon Mitchell has tried to be more faithful to the original German by restoring the long sentences and playful and poetic language. The language can be very rhythmic. After all, it's about a drum.

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