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The Dusters are a group of children and young men who travel around Danzig in packs. Basically, they're hooligans who engage in guerrilla acts of terror and destruction.
The Dusters attacked everything. They raided the offices of the Hitler Youth, grabbed medals and insignia from soldiers […] stole weapons, ammunition, and gasoline (29.42.)
The Dusters follow Oskar around town one day and discover his ability to shatter glass with his voice. Naturally, they draft him as their new leader.
The Dusters play a unique role in this book, as they satisfy Oskar's desire to gather "disciples" without having to get into politics. The Dusters want nothing to do with the Nazis, but they don't care about the Allies, either. They just hate the adult world in general and are willing to get violent to express their disgust with the world.
Eventually, Oskar manipulates this group of kids for his own ends. He wants to deface a holy statue in a church and place himself in the place of the baby Jesus. When the cops bust in, all the Dusters get rounded up, including Oskar. While all the Dusters confess, Oskar protests his innocence and says that the Dusters made him do everything. We're not totally clear on what happens next, but the Dusters probably are executed.
Greff is the owner of a grocery store and leader of a Boy Scout troop. He has knack for creating intricate mechanical things and is constantly tinkering in his basement. He neglects his wife Lina, as his sexual interest seems to be for the boys in his Scout troop. He's eventually outed and he hangs himself in the cellar using one of his mechanical devices.
The sexually frustrated wife of Albrecht Greff, Lina has an ongoing affair with Oskar. We know, kind of warped, right? After Oskar's limited sexual experiences with Maria, he learns a lot from Frau Greff and their daily trysts. After her husband's suicide, she hangs out with Oskar's family. When the Russian Army approaches, she hides in the cellar with them and is brutally raped by each of the soldiers.
This is Oskar's therapist in the mental hospital. She visits him daily, but Oskar thinks he's the one treating her, since she leaves his room less anxious than when she came in. She thinks his problems stem from his lack of social contact when he was a child.
Egon's a musician who has a really tough time getting out of bed. In fact, Oskar describes Klepp as so lazy and unmotivated that he's "cheerfully rotting away" (40.20). Oskar's return to drumming seems to inspire Klepp, who takes up his flute and excitedly suggests that he and Oskar start up a jazz band. The two of them do just that. Oskar doesn't seem to think all that much of Klepp's intelligence, but says he's a good flautist.
Klepp's also one of Oskar's most loyal visitors, although he annoys Oskar with his obsessive approach to schedules and politics. Klepp, for example, "Kills time by the hour drafting hourly schedules" (6.1). Klepp gets really deep into Communist ideas and even wears a black armband to mourn the death of Joseph Stalin, one of the most brutal dictators ever. Believe us, nobody grieves for Stalin.
Klepp goes out and gets drunk all the time and basically lives a musician's life. He likes to show off for women. The guy seems nice enough, but his obsessive approach to politics leaves Oskar cold. He seems like a perfect follower for Oskar, but Klepp also has this annoying tendency to think for himself. Klepp's pretty militant about his ideas, whether it's politics or taste in music.
The first thing you need to know about Oskar's grandfather is that he has a fiery temper and he, well, likes to set things on fire. He's a serial arsonist who escapes only by hiding under Oskar's grandmother's skirts. They're inseparable after that. Joseph assumes the identity of a dead naval officer, but the police eventually catch up with him. He jumps into a river in an escape attempt but never comes back up, and the police never manage to find his body. A legend builds around the idea that Grandpa Joe escaped to America, called himself Joe Colchic, and made a fortune in the fire insurance business. Oskar thinks he just drowned.
Korneff is a stonecutter who gives Oskar his first job in Düsseldorf carving letters onto the tombstones. He's constantly getting boils on his neck that erupt and drain, giving us another chance to enjoy disgusting imagery.
Oskar meets Lankes when he visits Normandy with his circus troupe. He's a soldier with artistic talents who decorates the concrete bunkers above the beach with fancy scrollwork. On his commander's orders, he guns down a group of nuns collecting food on the beach. Oskar later meets Lankes in a nightclub, and they travel together, stopping back at the bunker. This time, Lankes seduces a young nun who's walking on the beach. Afterwards, she walks into the ocean, possibly to kill herself. Some things never change.
Meyn's a musician who lives in Oskar's building. According to Oskar, he's a drunk but plays beautifully. One day after the war, he gets sick of his four pet cats, kills them and dumps them in a sack into the garbage. But they're not dead, only maimed, and they wriggle around in the bloody sack. More lovely imagery. Anyway, someone sees him dump the cats and reports him to the authorities.
Kurt is the son of Maria and either Albert or Oskar Matzerath. Oskar's convinced he's his son, not his brother. Regardless, Kurt shows very little interest in Oskar. He's a wild and destructive kid; when Oskar gives him a drum on his third birthday, he bands it to pieces in minutes. At Albert's funeral, Kurt throws a rock at Oskar's head, causing him to fall into the grave. (There's some seriously weird father-son stuff going on in this novel.) As he gets older, he calms down and shows some of the same business smarts as his mother working in the family's shop.
Bruno is Oskar's keeper at the hospital. Oskar describes the guy as somewhat dimwitted, but he's always kind to Oskar. Bruno also has a knack for making really intricate knots, and his gift for and obsession with knot making parallels Oskar's obsessive drumming. Bruno describes Oskar as his most well behaved patient, and seems to be on the fence about whether Oskar belongs in the mental hospital at all, as he claims explicitly that "Herr Matzerath is my most harmless patient" (34.3). In the portion of Oskar's memoir that Bruno writes, we can see that he's smarter than Oskar gives him credit for. His character gives us the only outsider's perspective on Oskar.
These are the kids that Oskar's doctor thinks he should have socialized more with. But they tease and bully him, and make him drink a disgusting soup made with urine, frogs and other gross stuff. He avoids them at all costs.
Luzie's a terrifying figure to Oskar; she comes to symbolize death because she turns in the Dusters to the authorities after they vandalize a church. It's her testimony that probably gets them sentenced to death. Oskar considers her as another version of The Black Cook.
Roswitha is the first and apparently last little person whom Oskar finds sexually attractive. He falls for her almost instantly. She's flirty and sensual, and Oskar can't help but repeatedly mention her "Mediterranean" background. He's a sucker for her dark eyes and accent. The book vaguely refers to Roswitha as the world's greatest "somnambulist." Now this word actually means "sleepwalker," but from the descriptions of Roswitha's performances, she's actually a hypnotist or fortune-teller.
Roswitha returns Oskar's affection. She's in the wrong place at the wrong time during the Allied invasion of Normandy, and is killed. Her death affects Oskar more deeply than the deaths of his mother, Alfred Matzerath or Jan Bronski. One strange quality about Roswitha is that Oskar has absolutely no clue how old she is. According to his eyes, she could be either eighteen or ninety. Like Bebra, Roswitha is one of the only people in this book who actually strike Oskar with a sense of awe. This is because Bebra and Roswitha are little people like Oskar, and they have found ways to turn their diminutive size to their advantage in show business. They feel great about themselves.
For someone we never actually see, Sister Dorothea's a pretty important figure. When Oskar finds out that a nurse named Sister Dorothea lives in the same house as his rented room, he admits that he "was tempted, possessed, overwhelmed by the mystery of the hospital nurse" (38.52). The most important word to focus on here is nurse—we know he has a thing for them. But it's only by not meeting Dorothea that Oskar's able to have such intense fantasies about her.
In this sense, Sister Dorothea isn't so much a character as a figment of Oskar's imagination. The fact that she's never around is exactly what allows Oskar to build up such an obsession for her.
But on one fateful night, Oskar actually runs into Sister Dorothea in a dark bathroom the middle of the night. They bump into one another in the pitch dark. Oskar isn't even wearing any clothes, just an old piece of carpet that he's wrapped around himself. Sister Dorothea wants to know who it is, and when he replies that it's Satan, she faints into his arms. Oskar decides to take this opportunity to rape Sister Dorothea, but finds that his penis is "a total and humiliating flop" (41.22).
The last we hear from Sister Dorothea, she's been murdered. Oskar confesses the murder and goes to a mental institution, even though it's highly unlikely he had anything to do with it. As a character, she hardly exists, but she does help Oskar by being the means of his returning to the safe and protective environment of the asylum.
It's hard to tell if Gottfried Vittlar is a real person or a figment of Oskar's imagination. He appears very, very late in the novel and seems to only exist for the purpose of turning Oskar in to the police. Another hint that Gottfried might not be real is the highly symbolic way in which he appears to Oskar. He appears at the very moment Oskar finds the severed finger of Sister Dorothea, "lying in the fork of an apple tree" (44.57), which creates a parallel between him and Satan in The Christian Bible. Oskar himself seems wary of whether Vittlar is real. Vittlar aspires to greatness:
"Just once I'd like to perform some deed, perform some great act […] and be in the newspapers making headlines." (45.72)
Oskar offers to let Vittlar turn him (Oskar) into the police for murder, since this will get Vittlar into the papers. Vittlar agrees and is forever thankful to Oskar for his help. Oscar describes Vittlar as having a self-conscious sense of style, with carefully creased trousers and a rather theatrical manner. He's a window-dresser by trade, which interests Oskar because of his fascination with breaking windows.