Study Guide

The Tin Drum Vanity

By Günter Grass

Advertisement - Guide continues below


They clowned around, parodied scenes from my trial, and to please them, as always on Visitors Day, I put on a cheerful face and managed to laugh at even their worst jokes (3.5).

As usual, Oskar takes a condescending approach to the people around him, especially the people who try hardest to be his friends. We have to ask ourselves: why does he go to such lengths to remind us of this in his memoirs? And, for extra credit: is his contempt for others a defense mechanism against self-hatred?

Effortlessly I freed myself from the head-first position favored by mothers, embryos, and midwives alike.

Let me say at once: I was one of those clairaudient infants whose mental development is complete at birth and thereafter simply confirmed (3.31-32).

Oskar even takes credit for his easy birth. We love the "thereafter simply confirmed." In other words, it was never in question. Pretty narcissistic, we'd say.

"Little people like us can squeeze into even the most crowded grandstands. And if not on the grandstand, then under the grandstand, but never in front. So says Bebra, direct descendant of Prince Eugen." (9.26)

It might be the case that the only person as vain as Oskar in this book is another little person, Oskar's mentor Bebra. Bebra's the first person to ever tell Oskar to use his tininess to his advantage. Bebra makes sure to end this comment with a flourish, mentioning again that he is the direct descendant of a great European prince. It might be this kind of swagger that makes Bebra the only person whom Oskar truly admires in this book.

Not until several dozen drums had already been stored in the cellar did the idée fixe seize me that some museum might eventually find my disabled drums of interest (17.7).

Why does Oskar save all of the old tin drums he's used up? Well it turns out that he thinks that someday museums might want to get hold of his drums to display them for future generations. How's that for presumption? Maybe there's a Scrap Metal Museum in Poland.

They'll admire you, may even make you their leader. You can exercise your influence, sharpened by long experience; answer your calling now, gather disciples and follow in the footsteps of Christ (20.43).

Even when Oskar meets the Dusters, a large bunch of threatening young men who are terrorizing the city and destroying property, he knows without a doubt he'll be their leader. Vanity or delusions of grandeur?

Because I didn't like the sound of the phrase close up shop, and because I had no intention of allowing these brats to patronize me with their deadlines, after about thirty-five seconds Oskar declared, "I am Jesus." (29.38)

Ignore that last question. It's delusions of grandeur. We know that Oskar doesn't actually think he's Jesus. He just thinks he's as awesome as Jesus.

When, on Sunday afternoon a week later, I entered City Hospital to visit my nurses and present my new, vain self in tiptop form, showing all my best sides, I was the proud owner of a silver tie pin, set with a pearl (36.9).

New vain self? Like he hasn't always been vain? What Oskar seems to be expressing is that he's actually happy with his appearance for the first time—he bought a tailor-made suit, the first fancy grownup clothes he's owned, and he wants to show off. Oskar's accepting of how he looks; he knows people stare at him. But here you get the impression that he's actually getting a kick out of himself and his new duds.

Oskar forced a smile. Painfully, it's true, but he smiled, crossed his arms above, his legs below, wagged his delicate black shoe, size thirty-five European, and enjoyed the moral superiority of the abandoned (36.32).

When Oskar takes a nurse out on a date, he realizes pretty quickly that the nurse is embarrassed to be seen with him. She eventually ditches Oskar, leaving him to sit by himself at one of the bar tables. Even in the face of rejection, though, Oskar is able to feign a sense of superiority, which he calls the "superiority of the abandoned." Check out that "defense mechanism" website again.

I couldn't help hearing that the coconut fibers were giving Sister Dorothea a feeling much like the feeling fizz powder had given my beloved Maria all those years ago, except that the fizz powder allowed me to hold up my end fully and triumphantly, while here on the coco mat I was a total and humiliating flop (41.22).

Here's a rare admission of failure on Oskar's part. It's especially humiliating because he's typically very proud of his sexual prowess.

The Tin Drum Vanity Study Group

Ask questions, get answers, and discuss with others.

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

This is a premium product

Please Wait...