Study Guide

The Tin Drum Chapter 3

By Günter Grass

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Chapter 3

Moth and Light Bulb

  • Oskar tells us that he's using a little tin drum to help him summon up these memories.
  • Oskar then describes two of his friends who have visited him—Klepp and Vittlar.
  • Oskar says that he indulges them and laughs at their dumb jokes. But all in all, he seems just annoyed by them.
  • When Oskar tells them about his grandfather's story, Vittlar jokes that he should get out of the asylum soon so he can go find his rich grandfather in America.
  • When his friends have gone, Oskar gets Bruno to open the windows and get their stink out of his room. What a great guy.
  • Then he returns to his drumming and recounts what happened after his grandfather Joe disappeared from the family's life.
  • It turns out that Joe Koljaiczek's older brother Gregor was brought in for questioning after Joe's "death." While this is happening, Oskar's grandmother Anna decides she might as well stick with Koljaiczeks, and she marries Gregor shortly after.
  • As time passes, Gregor and Anna open up a small shop to help make ends meet.
  • Eventually, Gregor dies from the flu and the family shop starts earning more money. Turns out that Gregor had been drinking most of the profits away.
  • At this point, Jan Bronski (Oskar's mother's cousin) moves into the house. He's a thin young man with huge blue eyes, and Oskar's mother Agnes falls totally in love with him.
  • There's constantly a threat that Jan will be called into the army for World War I, but the guy is so skinny and sickly that he doesn't qualify for military service.
  • During the war, Agnes meets a young German man named Alfred Matzerath. She's a nurse and Alfred's a wounded soldier. Perfect combo for romance.
  • Eventually, Jan moves out of Agnes' house once he realizes that Alfred's going to be around for good. Jan's heartbroken.
  • After the war, Alfred gets a job as a salesman in Agnes's city. The city we're talking about, by the way, is Danzig, which was returned to Poland after WWII and is today the city of Gdansk.
  • Jan Bronski decides he's going to get Polish citizenship and go to work for the Polish Post Office in Danzig.
  • It's a pretty big move for him, since he's sort of renouncing the Kashubian heritage that he shares with Oskar's mother, Agnes. Not to be confused with Kardashian.
  • You had to see that one coming.
  • After finding out that Agnes is engaged to Alfred, Jan himself gets engaged to and marries a girl named Hedwig.
  • Relations between Jan and Agnes improve a little after that. Jan even serves as a witness at Agnes and Alfred's wedding.
  • Meanwhile, Agnes and Alfred buy a struggling grocery store. Because Agnes's business smarts make the store really profitable, Alfred eventually quits his sales job to help run the store.
  • From that point on, Oskar's mother runs the shop while Alfred helps out with wholesale buying and does most of the cooking. He's a great cook.
  • Now we're back to Oskar, who's playing on his drum and trying to remember if the light bulbs in the family bedrooms were forty or sixty watts. It's an important detail to Oskar, because he knows that shortly after his father and mother bought the grocery store, his mother gave birth to him in a room with two light bulbs.
  • So what's so important about wattage?
  • Well, according to Oskar, he's one of those rare people (you know the type) who was born with a completely formed intellect. He remembers every detail of his birth.
  • On the other hand, he's in an asylum.
  • Anyway, Oskar claims that when he was born, he remembers seeing and hearing a moth bounce back and forth between the two light bulbs on the ceiling of his parents' bedroom. This sound is what first made him obsessed with drumming.
  • Seeing that Oskar was a boy, Alfred said he was glad there would be someone to take over the shop when he (Alfred) got too old. Agnes, on the other hand, said that when Oskar turned three, she'd buy him a tin drum.
  • Oskar decides immediately that he likes the second option better. No boring retail life for him.
  • According to Oskar, the thought of getting a tin drum was the only thing that kept him from wanting to crawl back into his mother's womb.

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