Study Guide

The Tin Drum The Home

By Günter Grass

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The Home

Granted: I'm an inmate in the mental institution […] (1.1).

This is the first thing Oskar Matzerath ever says to us. By opening with this line, he's basically warning us to take everything he says with a heavy grain of salt. It shows us immediately that Oskar probably spends a lot of his days cut off from human contact. Asylums aren't exactly homelike places.

The flat, which adjoined the store, was cramped and poorly laid out, but compared with the living conditions on Troyl, which I've only heard stories about, it was sufficiently middle-class that Mama, at least in the early years of her marriage, must have felt comfortable on Labesweg (3.26).

Oskar goes on to describe the family apartment in great detail, down to the color of the lampshades and the pictures on the walls. It was a definite step up from the home Oskar's mother was raised in. Like any home above a store, it was packed with overflow merchandise. Oskar was able to be around his parents most of the day, since the apartment adjoined the shop. A family business can result in a lot of closeness but also tension. Oskar was born at home, and his first sight was the light bulbs above the bed, which he claims to remember distinctly.

Through all the bad years of nothing but days to get through, I guarded it, hid it away, pulled it out again; during the trip in the boxcar I clutched it to my breast, a thing of value, and when I slept, Oskar slept on his treasure, his photo album (4.1).

When he talks about his family photo album, Oskar seems to get almost a little choked up. He wasn't exactly appreciative of his home and his relatives when he was younger. But he's really nostalgic when it comes to reminiscing about the past. This might be one of those cases where you truly don't appreciate what you have until it's gone. Cue Joni Mitchell.

When Oskar reached home, lunch was already on the table: meatloaf with boiled potatoes, red cabbage, and chocolate pudding with vanilla sauce for desert. Matzerath didn't say a word. Mama's thoughts were elsewhere. But that afternoon there was a family fight over jealousy and the Polish Post Office (9.58).

Mazerath's cooking is what seems to provide a "homey" atmosphere in an otherwise confusing and crazy family life.

Nowhere could I live more at peace with the calendar than under my grandmother's skirts (10.9).

Beneath the skirts of Grandma Bronski is one of the only other places where Oskar truly feels a sense of home. Beneath these skirts, he's totally cut off from the world. When you think of how much he likes the sense of safety and protection underneath the skirts, you can see how he gets the same feeling from the mental hospital.

Matzerath slammed the living room door behind him and disappeared into the kitchen, where we could hear him banging away. He killed the eels with a crosscut slice below the head while Mama, who had an overly lively imagination, had to sit down on the sofa, where she was quickly joined by Jan Bronski, and a moment later the two were holding hands and whispering in Kashubian (10.33).

Throughout his childhood, Oskar's house has its share of turmoil. The rivalry between Alfred and Jan for his mother's affection permeates the household. Little Oskar sees all of this happening, too, so you can imagine how scenes like this affect his sense of what a home is like.

Probably—and this proved to be the case—Matzerath had placed the slaughtered, cleaned, washed, cooked, spiced, and sampled eels in the large terrine and set it on the living room table as ready-to-serve eel soup with boiled potatoes, and then, because no one would join him, had dared to start singing the praises of his dish, listing all its ingredients and reciting the recipe like a prayer (12.40).

In this case, Matzerath's cooking becomes grotesque and provocative. Eels sure aren't comfort food, especially for Oskar's mother, who was traumatized by them earlier that day.

For a long time I heard nothing but Mama's whimpering, the soft creaking of the bed, and faint murmurs from the living room. Jan was calming Matzerath down. Matzerath asked Jan to calm Mama down (12.41).

Not the world's most normal household.

So the father was reduced to shamefaced silence, and with a decent allowance provided by little Kurt's childish benevolence, absented himself from the apartment in Bilk as often as possible, so as not to confront his disgrace (35.14).

When Oskar has no way of making money, it makes him feel unwelcome in the house. Being a provider is what would make him feel at home with Kurt and Maria.

Today I am thirty, my trial will be reopened, the expected acquittal will force me back on my feet, riding trains, trams, exposed to those words: Better start running, the Black Cook's coming! Ha! Ha! Ha! (46.15)

At the end of the book, Oskar worries that he'll be found innocent of murder. Yeah, you heard right. He likes it in the mental institution and doesn't know what he'll do if he's forced back out into the everyday world. It's pretty sad that the institution might be the closest thing Oskar now has to a true home.

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