Study Guide

The Tin Drum Warfare

By Günter Grass

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The Tin Drum has two—count 'em—two world wars. Before Oskar was born, his father was wounded in WWI. Europe pretty much self-destructed during the war, and his family lived through the postwar economic devastation. The Second World War began with the invasion of Poland in 1939. The rise of Nazi Germany and the War itself provide the historical backdrop for most of the novel. Wartime events just get folded into the daily life of Oskar's family, e.g. the arguments between his Polish and German fathers; a portrait of Hitler hanging in the house; Oskar watching the drummers at the Nazi parades. The destruction of Kristallnacht is described in kind of a detached way, not as important as the destruction of the toy store where Oskar buys his drums.

By writing about ordinary people, Grass is more effective in confronting the memories of German society than if he had simply written about battles and campaigns.

Questions About Warfare

  • What lessons, if any, does Oskar learn from World War II?
  • What is the biggest loss Oskar experiences as a result of the War? Why is it such a big loss? How does he choose to express his grief?
  • Why do you think Alfred Matzerath is active in his local Nazi party?

Chew on This

Oskar's failure to grow until the war is over is a statement about the immaturity of a society that refuses to confront its past.

Ultimately, Oskar stands to lose a lot if the Nazis prevail. They don't like people with mental or physical deformities.

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