Grass' "The Tin Drum" Summary

by Eleanor McKenzie Google

The year 2009 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of "The Tin Drum" or "Die Blechtrommel," the book's original German title. The novel was a Nobel prize winner. It was Gunter Grass' first novel and it remains his best known, along with "Cat and Mouse." Grass' work was influenced by Expressionism and the Theater of the Absurd, and he is known for using objects, such as the tin drum in this novel, as extended metaphors.


Grass uses autobiographical style to tell the fictional story of Oskar Matzerath, who is 30 at the opening of the novel. Oskar lives in a mental institution in Dusseldorf, Germany, although the reason for this is not revealed until the end of the novel. Although the novel is Oskar´s story, it also tells the story of his family in Danzig during and after World War II, and Oskar´s post-war career as a jazz musician, which ends with his trial for the murder of a nurse who lived in his apartment block.

Oskar's Features

Oskar has two distinguishing features: he is a dwarf and he has a very high-pitched voice. When Oskar was 3 years old, his mother gave him a tin drum, and from this moment he decides not to grow any more physically and never to become an adult. However, events in Oskar´s life make him grow, so that when he begins writing his memoirs he is 4'1" inch, and by the time he gets to the middle of it, he is 4'2". When he decides not to grow he also develops a voice that is so high-pitched it breaks glass. He uses this throughout the novel to protect his drum, which he always has with him, to break and enter buildings, and to entertain Nazi soldiers.


Oskar doesn´t go to school and educates himself. His mother dies before the war and Oskar muddles through the war years in Danzig. His stepfather, Alfred, complicates his life by marrying Oskar´s first love, Maria, who is pregnant with Oskar´s child, although Alfred believes it is his. The boy rejects Oskar´s wish for him to also be a drum-playing 3-year-old. Oskar joins a circus troupe of midget clowns, led by Bebra, who later gives him an important recording contract. Oskar returns home eventually and leads an anti-establishment group of youths called The Dusters in a series of criminal activities. He moves to Dusseldorf and forms a jazz band with his friend Klepp, which is a turning point in his life.

The End

The owner of the jazz club where Oskar plays dies, and Oskar is offered a contract to take his drum on a tour. This leads to a recording contract and Oskar discovers that the company is owned by his old friend Bebra. When Bebra dies, Oskar stops drumming. One day, Oskar is walking in a field when he finds the severed finger of a murdered nurse who had lived across the hall from him and who he had been in love with. He keeps the finger and asks another friend, Vittlar, to report him to the police for murder. Osakr is tried and wrongly convicted and imprisoned in a mental institution, where he writes his memoirs.

About the Author

Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.

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